To Councillor Dick Walsh, Leader A&BC

cc. Robert MacIntyre Deputy Leader A&BC, Alister.MacAlister A&BC, Jim Mather MSP, Mr Ronnie Smith, Captain Sandy Ferguson, Editor Dunoon Observer for information

10th December 2007

Dear Councillor Walsh,

User Charter Meetings: FOI documents

I am responding to your reply (copy attached) to me concerning the material I obtained under Freedom of Information (FOI) documenting the "Users Charter" meetings between the Council, Western Ferries and the Scottish Executive. Your reply states;

"Tripartite discussions were held as a result of a proposal put to the Scottish Executive by Western Ferries, but the proposal had no status other than that – a proposal. Council Officers are often required to engage in exploratory discussion such as this and I am satisfied that the Council’s position has not been compromised. Members and officers alike have consistently expressed the view that nothing would be done to prejudice the Council’s intention to have a combined passenger and vehicle service operating between Dunoon and Gourock piers".

Absolute and complete rubbish.

First, the "Users Charter" is shorthand for "Western as sole operator of vehicle ferries", as Western made abundantly clear in these same meetings.

Second, the Council were not just responding to Western's "Users Charter" proposal, they were actively helping Western prepare it, and advising them on how to improve it.

Third, the Council stated their view in the 9th November 2004 meeting with the Executive and Western that a combined passenger and vehicle service was not likely to be the least cost option between Gourock and Dunoon. This completely contradicted - totally unjustifiably - the conclusions of the Deloitte Touche Report (co-sponsored by the Executive, Western and Calmac) which found that such a service would cost the taxpayer millions of pounds less than would alternatives such as a passenger service.

Fourth, having just undermined the case for a combined passenger and vehicle service between Gourock and Dunoon town centres, the Council immediately went on in that meeting to invite serious consideration of just a passenger service between Gourock and Dunoon town centres.

And you actually claim all this did not compromise the Council's position, and that it did not "prejudice the Council’s intention to have a combined passenger and vehicle service operating between Dunoon and Gourock piers"?

Your reply to me tries to defend the indefensible, and any member of the Council who does not first of all dissociate themselves from these disgraceful proceedings is as culpable as those who participated in them

These "discussions" took place in 2004, and the FOI Act was only introduced in 2005. Probably none of the participants in these charades ever believed the existence of these meetings would ever be uncovered, let alone their contributions see the light of day. As it was, it still took parliamentary questions by Jim Mather MSP to confirm they had taken place. It then took two years of requests by me under FOI, appeal to the Executive under FOI, and appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner under FOI to drag this sorry tale partly into the daylight. And even now much of the material remains heavily censored.

But we now know the Council was helping work up a proposal that would have the inevitable outcome of Western being sole operator of vehicle ferries Gourock-Dunoon, with the link between Gourock and Dunoon town centres subverted to - at best - passenger only.

You do not have to take my word for it, nor does anyone else. Any voter, taxpayer, journalist, auditor or lawyer can check the FOI documents for themselves on my website at ANNEX A

Any interested party (and any subsequent inquiry) should start by comparing the Council's repeated public claims that they were consistently and strongly promoting a combined vehicle and passenger service between the two town centres, with what they were actually doing and saying in private in these meetings with Western and the Executive. After that, the next question is; "why ...?".

The work and the advice of the Council in these meetings would result in the new Dunoon linkspan remaining unused, plus a totally unnecessary and massive public subsidy for an obsolete, inappropriate and degraded town centre to town centre public service, and also substantial profits to the Hunters Quay - McInroy's Point private operator. Which, funnily enough, is the solution we have at the moment, only the Council's advice and work here is going to help it become much worse.

Over the years I have become sick and tired of the Council's lament on the ferries, "it wisnae us, a big boy did it", and blaming everything on the Executive. Well, now we know at least some of the truth. We know much more about what has been happening, what we need to know is why, and who knew, which is why I am copying this to the Deputy Leader of the Council, my local councillor and my constituency MSP. I hope they will help get some answers; what we really need at the very least is a proper independent inquiry into a shambles that would disgrace a third world country.

As for the immediate future and the Council's latest PR attempts to promote "Dunoon: Gateway to the Future", would you please stop wasting taxpayers money, patronising us, and misdirecting local people's time and energy when it is clear that the actual "Gateway to the Future" that was promoted by the Council runs through Hunters Quay.

To paraphrase Peter Barlow in the Dunoon Observer a few weeks ago; "do they think we are all mugs?" The evidence of the documents revealed under Freedom of Information suggests that is exactly how we were, and are, being treated. What I and many others will want to know is why - and then what actions the new Council and other interested parties are going to take to deal with this.

Neil Kay