An independent inquiry into the future of West Coast ferry services is now a necessity, writes Brian Wilson.
An open letter to staff from a respected Caledonian MacBrayne skipper, retiring after 34 years, did not miss and hit the pier.
This account makes Fred Karno’s Circus seem like a smooth operation. Linkspans that don’t fit cardecks. Gangways that don’t fit ferries. Transient management in Gourock that doesn’t listen to seafaring experience. And so on.
What is to be done? Many problems trace back to a quango called Caledonian Marine Assets Limited, chaired by a Danish logistics expert and including nobody from the ports CalMac serves.
Expensive projects repeatedly go wrong. The retiring master writes: “Our piers were built maybe 70 years ago for puffers to dry out alongside. We added linkspans and dolphins and called them ro-ro terminals.”
He warns: “Attention needs to be focused on the infrastructure problems if the company I’ve been proud to serve is not to fall flat on its face fairly soon.”
Then there’s capacity. On some routes, islanders must book months in advance to ensure space.
This results from the ill-judged introduction of road-equivalent-tariff (RET) ferry fares – it never was RET – in 2008 which garnered headlines when it would have been far better to replicate the Air Discount Scheme focusing subsidy on local residents.
Meanwhile there’s the fiasco at Port Glasgow where the Scottish Government’s CMAL feuds with the SNP’s pet shipbuilder, Jim McColl, over a £61 million dispute while two desperately needed ferries lie uncompleted and the ageing CalMac fleet struggles to cope.
For avoidance of doubt, these issues are not about “powers” which lie entirely in Edinburgh. With more chance of effective scrutiny from Mars than Holyrood, it is time for an independent inquiry into Current and Future Issues Affecting West Coast Ferry Services.