Letter: Case for changes to ferry contracts

YOUR article "New calls to open up ferry services" (News, 31 October) regrettably presented only one side of the debate about this controversial and complex topic.

It is claimed by small private ferry operators that they could provide ferry services on some routes at less cost to the taxpayer if given the opportunity, but there is no hard evidence that splitting the current contractual bundles (Clyde & Hebrides Ferry Services and Northern Isles Services) to allow them to bid would automatically achieve that.

They seem to overlook the fact that costs are dictated by the terms of the current operating contracts as set out by government and we do not believe that smaller private operators could reduce costs without compromising the quality and frequency of the services to some of Scotland's most remote and vulnerable communities.

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This view is shared by most of the communities we serve where successive government public consultations have shown that there is no appetite for such a split. Their concern is that their social and economic interests would always come second to the drive for profit, and history supports these fears.

It is not always appreciated that every aspect of the services we provide through Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac) and NorthLink, including routes, timetables, fares and the ships and ports we use, are set by the contracts and there is virtually no scope for innovation or creativity in how ferry services are delivered.

It is our view therefore that the key to improved ferry services and reduced costs is the creation of longer (currently only six years) and more flexible contracts which will encourage investment and provide both the incentive and opportunity to seek innovative ways of delivering these vital services.

The government's Ferry Review is currently considering all aspects of how ferry services should be provided in future, and the case for changes to the contracts is included in our submission to the review which can be viewed online at www.calmac.co.uk/scottish-ferries-review-consultation.htm.

Peter Timms, Chairman,

David MacBrayne Ltd