Return from Planet CalMac
I have just returned from Planet CalMac (it's called the "Argyll
ferries website", but it is still populated by CalMac), where
you can find this
It says, "Argyll Ferries Ltd, the operators of the new Gourock-Dunoon
passenger service, have hailed their enhanced service for the Cowal
Games an outstanding success
The Cowal Games was a major
test for the new service and
it passed with flying colours
the time had now come to draw a line under the difficulties of the
service's start and look forward to the next six years of the contract
Our vision has always been for a safe, frequent, reliable,
world-class passenger service between the two towns
improvements which will resolve a great many of the remaining problems.
- The installation of electronic information boards on both piers
- The introduction of a revised timetable to better integrate
with rail services
- Further works to the ships to improve the resilience"
The communication from Planet CalMac also mentions "teething
problems" and their "vision of providing a world class
ferry service of which everyone can be proud"
"Teething problems" and "world class" vision?
Are they serious? As if electronic signage and some other tinkering
can solve the problems of totally unsuitable vessels and service.
They were saved (as were the passengers) on Cowal games by bringing
in a car ferry that could carry over 500 passengers (and was not
allowed to carry cars) and unexpectedly benign weather. Just wait
until these passenger-only vessels have to face a Clyde winter.
Meanwhile, back on Planet Earth when I went to pick up my daughter
from the "Argyll Flier" yesterday I met a college lecturer
I knew coming off it who said he had asked not to have any 9 am
lectures for next term scheduled for him in case of ferry cancellations.
Other commuters do not have such discretion over their physical
presence at work. Multiply his wishes with those of every commuter
who has to be at work by a certain time (say 9am) and you begin
to get a feel for the scale of the problem for what was defined
in the Deloitte Touche Report as a commuter service. Imagine a job
interview in which you say you intend to commute across the Clyde
using this service. Imagine just trying keep your job and commuting
across the Clyde using this service.
Add in not just the disabled and the elderly but even the able-bodied
who say they are reluctant and even fearful about using the service,
season this with Mike Russell MSP and Philip Preston (Argyll Ferries
MD)s' "use it or lose it" threats and you have the ingredients
for the destruction of what was once Calmac's flagship service.
It is, as I and others have warned, designed to fail.
Here below for the record is a letter I had published in the Dunoon
Observer 26th August 2011
Neil Kay 30th August 2011
Letter to Dunoon Obsever published 26th August 2011
Voices in the air
As one with some professional background in the area,
my heart tends to sink when I hear a politician quoting economists.
Mike Russell builds his defence of the Government's mishandling
of the ferries issue (letters 19th August) on a quote from Keynes.
But Keynes also said: "Practical men, who believe themselves
to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually
the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear
voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic
scribbler of a few years back". Keynes himself died more than
a few years back in 1946.
Contrary to what Mike Russell says, the key facts have not changed
on the ferries issue, only politicians' excuses. For example, he
twists the truth to say that "European law
. will not
now permit cross subsidy between vehicle and passenger services".
There has been no change in the law here that his "now"
suggests and the simple fact is that no-one was suggesting what
he was implying. First, no responsible authority until the infamous
"use it or lose it" advice was suggesting anything other
than that a frequent service for foot passengers was needed between
the town centres
But if you are going to run such a frequent service, foot passengers
deliver little farebox revenue and need subsidy, mostly to pay for
the crewing levels needed for safety reasons. Add vehicle-carrying
on such a frequent service and you add much more revenues than you
do costs and help bring down and possibly even eliminate subsidy.
All this is supported by hard economic analysis on this route and
Not only is this permitted under EU law, the European Commission
confirmed it in writing it to Alyn Smith SNP MEP in 2007 and again
to me this year. And I suggest Mike Russell looks at the contract
his Government wrote for the current service because he will see
it is referred to and explicitly permitted in that contract. But
you have to make sure suitable vessels are available in the first
Although he lives locally, Mike Russell's career history as a directly
elected politician is just 15 weeks. Before May he was list MSP
in the South of Scotland selected from within SNP ranks, and a Minister
within the Edinburgh-based SNP government. He did not build the
SNP's 8,000 majority here, he owes much of it to the failings of
other parties nationally and to his immensely popular and energetic
predecessor Jim Mather (who to his credit confessed his own failure
here). Can you imagine Jim Mather dismissing critics as "armchair
theorists" and the "usual suspects" and advising
let them "use it or lose it"? This is more Marie Antoinette
than constituency MSP.
But what we have going for us is that the Government's imminent
plans for Scotland's ferry network have been hijacked by vested
interests who want to break up and cherry pick the network with
tendering of selected single routes. That has already been signaled
for the Northern Isles and will be followed next year with separate
announcements for Argyll and Bute routes that are part of the CalMac
As things stand, Gourock-Dunoon will be testimony to the fact that
tendering of single routes will be an unmitigated economic and social
disaster for the rest of Argyll and Bute and a political disaster
for any politicians foolish enough to enact it. And we can give
the rest of Argyll and Bute chapter and verse on that. .
Mike Russell is an intelligent and astute politician who has delivered
policies in areas as diverse as education and culture. He will not
want to go down in history as a one-term elected politician who
lost one of Scotland's biggest majorities. He should ask what happened
to George Lyon in 2007 (majority 4000 in 2003) and why.
He bemoans those "mired in the past" and finishes by
quoting Galbraith. Galbraith also noted (ironically) that "nothing
is so admirable in politics as a short memory". He would like
us to draw a line and move on, and make this all the community's
responsibility (and ultimately our fault) with the red herring of
a community enterprise and the "use it or lose it" threat.
But this mess is directly the fault and responsibility of the Government
he represents, and unless they sort it out and soon, he will find
the collective memories across Argyll and Bute are longer and broader
than that of a politician.