Supplement to today's earlier post

Since I wrote the earlier post today I have received a response to an FoI request I made to the Scottish Government on the same subject of vessels for Gourock-Dunoon, This is a supplement to the earlier analysis of my Freedom of Informaiton requests to CMAL in my post of the 25th \March and earlier post today 10th April. These earlier posts should be read first

First, read this statement by the Scottish Government in the Dunoon Observer 4th March 2010

A Scottish government spokeswoman said: “CMAL did investigate the vessel market at the time of the Minister’s request: this revealed that suitable second-hand tonnage was available. CMAL continue to monitor the ferry market for suitable vessels.” Asked if the phrase ‘suitable second-hand tonnage’ meant vessels which carry vehicles and passengers, the spokeswoman responded: “The term ‘second-hand tonnage’ includes tonnage that can carry vehicles.”. CMAL (Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd) is the Scottish government-owned company which owns the ferries, ports and harbours and infrastructure of Scotland’s state-owned ferry operations. It’s mission is ‘to provide, safeguard, and develop ferries and harbours.’ The spokeswoman continued: “In addition, the maritime technical experts providing advice to the Scottish government in this procurement exercise have also been searching the new and used ferry market. All of the information and details collected will be provided to tenderers.”

Sounds good doesn't it? Suitable second had vessels (in the plural) available for Gourock-Dunoon, and all the information collected on this to be passed on to potential tenderers for the route. At first sight this would appear to negate the warnings by myself and others that suitable vessels simply were not available.

However, read this response from the Scottish Government's Transport Directorate Ferries Division dated 8th April and received today to an FoI request that I sent to the Scottish Government on the 12th March. The FoI request was essentially the same as the one I sent at the same time to CMAL with the same six questions. The official responded:

I can confirm that following the European Commission publishing its decision on its investigation into support for ferry services in Scotland, an offcial within Ferries Division did make a verbal request to CMAL. That verbal request to CMAL to investigate the market was intended to gauge the availability of vessels that are suitable to operate on the town-centre to town-centre Gourock-Dunoon ferry service. The verbal request was made for two reasons, firstly to confirm the previously held view that there are a number of second-hand vehicle and passenger ferries on the market that could operate on the Gourock-Dunoon route, and secondly to enable CMAL to be in a position to offer assistance to any potential bidder who might be looking for an appropriate vessel. This preliminary market assistance by CMAL is not part of the ongoing tendering process, nor will any criteria used by CMAL to underake that investigation form any part of the tender specification.

For these reasons, we hold no records in relation to this matter, and consequently the Scottish Government does not hold the information you have requested.

There are two points worth noting here

First note how "suitable second-hand tonnage" in the earlier statement from the government spokeswoman now morphs into "could operate" in the instructions given by the Government to CMAL in this FoI response. These are very different things. It is conceivable a Model T-Ford "could operate" on the road to Dunoon, that does not make it a "suitable" form of transport for everyday use. But the "could operate" condition is in fact what CMAL took as its mandate, my first set of FoI responses from CMAL 25th March indicated that "The criteria used by CMAL to define “suitable second-hand tonnage” are vessels that it is believed could access the shore infrastructure at Gourock and Dunoon i.e. length, breadth and draft". That was not CMAL fault or mistake, they were just doing what the Government ordered, and then after that the Government tried to give a different impression of what they meant by "suitable" here. As I have noted previously, they probably would have got away with this had it not been for FoI legislation.

Second, note that the Government spokesman said " All of the information and details collected will be provided to tenderers" and the FoI response I received today confirms that this exercise will " enable CMAL to be in a position to offer assistance to any potential bidder who might be looking for an appropriate vessel.

But as my last set of FoI responses from CMAL confirm, the names of all but one of the vessels (the tidally-challenged "Vesborg") are "unknown" to CMAL. So how can they offer assistance to tenderers when they do not even know the identity of these vessels?

My sympathy in all this is with CMAL, they are just doing what they were ordered to. I am not surprised they did not keep a note of the names of the vessels that they found "could operate" the Gourock-Dunoon shore infrastructure. Why should you when you do not think there is any chance of anyone ever asking you for that information.

Neil Kay April 10th 2010