CalMac ferries should be democratised, not privatised – Kenny MacAskill MP

It’s all very well Nicola Sturgeon ruling out “Project Neptune”, the scheme devised by highly paid consultants to break up or more likely privatise the CalMac service.

CalMac ferry services need to be improved, the question is how (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
CalMac ferry services need to be improved, the question is how (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

But you have to ask why was the review was commissioned in the first place. It’s not as if it was an iceberg looming out of the horizon. This was instructed through her government and agencies which, importantly, have a predilection to use these sort of consultants on vital public services.

Now to be fair, the option has been welcomed by some island communities and I can understand their frustration. The service has been poor and they’ve often been ignored.

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The customer may be king but not on vital Scottish ferry services and certainly not the communities that they serve. Lifeline they may be, but it’s “you’ll take what we give you”, not “we’ll try and provide what you’d like”.

With an ageing and increasingly unreliable fleet, it’s choppy waters ahead for most and hence almost any port in a storm. So I appreciate why many communities see this as being potentially beneficial. But I’d still counsel against it, even if change there must be.

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Break up the service then the ability to move ships around’s lost. Whilst some vessels are inappropriate for some routes, the ability to shift others and move crews is essential.

Likewise, ferries can be expensive and both economies of scale and central support are vital. There’s a danger a community-run venture could fold or a private operator abuse their power.

That doesn’t mean that radical reform isn’t required, for change there must be. But CalMac’s the basis for delivering it and they should be liberated from the incompetence of Transport Scotland and CMAL.

Equally though communities require far more say. The absence of local representatives on the board until recently and the almost cold-shouldering of them on operational issues is unacceptable.

There’s another transport mode which shows what can be done. Both Lothian Buses and Transport for London are publicly or municipally owned but provide an excellent service for their communities. Democratise not privatise CalMac.

Kenny MacAskill is Alba Party MP for East Lothian

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