|Press release 18th August 18, 2008
The following is a press release on the Gourock-Dunoon ferries. I reproduce
the press release first, then add four sets of comments,
Neil Kay August 18th 2008
COUNCILLORS MEET WITH TRANSPORT MINISTER TO DISCUSS
Representatives of Argyll and Bute Council, the Scottish Government and
Inverclyde Council, have reaffirmed their commitment to a centre-to-centre
vehicle and ferry passenger service between Dunoon and Gourock.
At a high-level meeting which took place yesterday (Thursday 14th August),
Argyll and Bute Council Leader, Councillor Dick Walsh, met with Stewart
Stevenson, Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change,
and Councillor Jim Clocherty, Inverclyde Council's Convener of Regeneration,
where he proposed a tripartite approach towards securing the future of
the ferry service.
Councillor Walsh said: "I am pleased that the Minister and Councillor
Clocherty have agreed to adopt this united tripartite approach. This is
a positive step towards developing a ferry service around the needs of
the communities involved and not around the needs of the operators.
"There is little doubt that pressure from the communities involved
is increasing. They feel that this situation has gone on long enough.
We in the Council have been working hard over a long period of time. Indeed,
only in May I met with Commissioner Barot (sic) along with a representative
the Scottish Government. The Commissioner is in support of our position
and approach to this important service and agrees that it can be tendered.
"Furthermore, the Commissioner agreed to appoint one of the EU officials
to work with Argyll and Bute Council and the Scottish Government on the
Gourock/Dunoon ferry service, who would also visit Dunoon/Inverclyde.
This is because the routes are not like for like.
"He also agreed with us on the need to appoint an independent regulator
to prepare the way for the tender and what should be in it in order to
ensure that the service reflects public need and is in the best interest
of the local communities of Cowal and Inverclyde."
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Stevenson said: "We had a useful
and constructive meeting in Oban with leaders of both councils. It is
clear that we share a commitment to deliver a Gourock-Dunoon ferry service
which meets the aspirations of both communities whilst respecting
"This Government wants to deliver a town centre to town centre service.
Both Argyll and Bute and Inverclyde Council share that commitment and
this new tripartate agreement will allow us to work more closely together
to deliver. A Gourock - Dunoon service which satisfies everyone's aspirations
not without its challenges and I am aware that looking from the outside
it may look like we are not moving as quickly as many people would wish.I
want to assure the community that behind the scenes we are all working
extremely hard to progress this."
Mr Stevenson continued: "The reality is that the pace is dictated
by ensuring that we wrap up all the EC legal requirements as tightly as
possible. If we don't, we may fall into the trap of other countries who
have fallen foul of the European Commission. That would do no-one anygood.
A substantial financial penalty imposed by the EC would come right out
of the ferries budget which would be disastrous for both Gourock - Dunoon
and our other lifeline services.
"This is a real frustration for me, as I am sure it is for the people
ofboth communities, but unfortunately it is something we all have to go
through. However, what I want to make clear is that we will move to
tender stage at the earliest opportunity once our final negotiations with
the EC are complete and the legal requirements met. This Government, and
indeed the two councils, are absolutely committed to
delivering this service as quickly as possible."
Councillor Clocherty of Inverclyde Council said: "The timing of
the decision is crucial for the future regeneration plans of Inverclyde.
The meeting went well and I look forward to seeing the service develop
and to further partnership working in the months ahead."
Other items on the agenda included the Campbeltown to Ballycastle ferry
and the Council's Piers and Harbours budget.
COMMENTS ON PRESS RELEASE
Point (a) "He also agreed with us on the need to appoint an
I am pleased with that point. I have given invited evidence to three Inquiries
of the Transport Committee of the Scottish Parliament in 2001, 2005 and
2008, and from the the very first one in 2001 I argued strongly for the
appointment of an Independent Regulator, a proposal which was rejected
by the then government. It is good that this crucial point has finally
been accepted, albeit seven years late.
Point (b) "we will move to tender stage at the earliest opportunity
once our final negotiations with the EC are complete and the legal requirements
met. This Government, and indeed the two councils, are absolutely committed
to delivering this service as quickly as possible."
If that is what is proposed, it would waste public money and raise false
expectations. This would be a waste of time. We need two modern fuel-efficient
12-knot 40-car bow-and-stern loading ferries for the route. Anybody who
knows anything about the state of this market will tell you that if modern
efficient ferries of the kind required were available, they would already
be productively employed elsewhere. Why should they switch them here for
a contract that under EC rules would end in six years? Who would build
vessels with a 25 year life for a six year contract? This would be a time-wasting
A quick tender would ensure a quick death for the service, which is very
much what some people (I emphasize, not the Minister) would want.
If simply tendering was a sufficient solution, then the two new vessels
for Bute could have been found just by sticking an advert in the Official
Journal of the European Community ("Wanted - two spare ferries
Instead, the government did the right thing by commissioning the build
of these two ferries, with their subsequent operations subject to tendering
under EC rules. Exactly the same should be done for the Gourock-Dunoon
Point (c) "The Commissioner agreed to appoint one of the EU
officials to work with Argyll and Bute Council and the Scottish Government
on the Gourock/Dunoon ferry service, who would also visit Dunoon/Inverclyde"
This is the best news possible.
I have argued for years that that the European Commission has not been
given an accurate picture of what has been going on here due to a combination
of self-interested civil servant advice, and active corporate lobbying.
There are solutions which would satisfy EC law and the public interest
but which would be resisted by these same civil servants and corporate
That is the crunch point. If the EC official responsible was presented
with these solutions for consideration, then there would be some hope.
The Minister ultimately responsible for ferries is John Swinney. If he
were to invite the EC to consider alternative solutions such as the ones
I have put forward, well then yes, there is some hope.
Point (d) "Other items on the agenda included the Campbeltown
to Ballycastle ferry"
All the points I made above hold equally for the Campbeltown to Ballycastle
ferry. If you do not decide to contract CMAL (the government's vessel
owning body) to build a modern vessel for the route based on the special
requirements for the route, and then tender it under EC rules on the basis
of least cost subsidy, then don't waste public money and everybody's time,
and raise false hopes.
Neil Kay August 18th 2008