CalMac chief executive Robbie Drummond ‘removed’ from post – Transport Secretary Fiona Hyslop

Surprise move comes a week after the chief executive of ferry builder Ferguson Marine was also sacked

Ministers have been accused of leaving Scotland’s ferry services in ‘utter chaos’ after CalMac chief executive Robbie Drummond was removed from his post, just over a week after the boss of the firm building two over-budget and long-delayed vessels was also sacked.

The surprise news of Mr Drummond’s departure comes as the west coast operator, which is the UK’s largest ferry company, faces ongoing challenges with its ageing fleet because of delays to the new ferries.

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Transport Secretary Fiona Hyslop revealed Mr Drummond had been “removed” in a letter to a Holyrood committee on Wednesday.

CalMac chief Robbie Drummond has stepped downCalMac chief Robbie Drummond has stepped down
CalMac chief Robbie Drummond has stepped down

It came after the CalMac board said Mr Drummond was “stepping down” following a review of its management.

Ms Hyslop told the Scottish Parliament’s net zero, energy and transport committee: “I am writing to let you know that I have been advised by the board of [CalMac parent firm] David MacBrayne Ltd that it has reviewed the executive leadership of the organisation to ensure that it is best placed to deliver in the years ahead.

“As part of that review, the board has removed Robbie Drummond from the position of chief executive of CalMac Ferries Ltd with immediate effect.”

The Scottish Government said ministers were “formally advised” of CalMac chair Erik Østergaard’s “intentions in relation to the senior leadership of CalMac” on March 25 – nine days ago.

31-year-old Caledonian Isles has been out of service since January and is not due to return until mid-June following major steelwork repairs. (Photo by John Devlin/The Scotsman)31-year-old Caledonian Isles has been out of service since January and is not due to return until mid-June following major steelwork repairs. (Photo by John Devlin/The Scotsman)
31-year-old Caledonian Isles has been out of service since January and is not due to return until mid-June following major steelwork repairs. (Photo by John Devlin/The Scotsman)

It said this was a matter for Mr Østergaard and the board, which is understood to have taken the decision at a meeting at CalMac’s head office in Gourock on Wednesday.

However, it is understood there is a general sense within the Scottish Government of patience running out, as well as a renewed focus on delivery following a reshuffle of Humza Yousaf's cabinet in February.

In a statement, CalMac cited “challenges” over its service to island communities and said these are “likely set to continue until new vessels are introduced to the fleet over the coming years”.

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An industry source told The Scotsman there was a feeling of a “need to change direction” amid the tough times Scottish-Government-owned CalMac is enduring while it awaits new ferries to rejuvenate its ageing fleet that have been stretched to the limit by breakdowns.

Mr Drummond warned in CalMac parent firm David MacBrayne’s latest annual report, published on Friday, that it would “continue to face challenging times over the next two years” until the six new large vessels were in service.

The shock announcement comes just over a week after the chief executive of the state-owned shipyard Ferguson Marine, David Tydeman – where the two hugely over-budget and delayed CalMac ferries are being built – was sacked by its board.

But Bill Calderwood, secretary of the Arran Ferry Committee, which met Mr Drummond on Tuesday, said a “change of culture" was needed at CalMac.

He told The Scotsman: “We wish Robbie Drummond well, and it is unfortunate that one individual has been singled out, but CalMac needs to become more customer focused.

"The culture of the organisation is influenced by the lead.”

Mr Calderwood said the committee had warned Mr Drummond that CalMac’s plan to deploy the Isle of Arran and Alfred ferries to cover the main Arran route to Brodick – CalMac’s busiest – during main vessel Caledonian Isles extended absence until at least June for major repairs would provide insufficient capacity to meet demand.

Angus Campbell, chair of the Ferries Community Board, said it had “consistently asked for a change of approach from top management at CalMac to be more islanders and community centred.

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However, Mr Drummond’s departure prompted the Scottish Conservatives to claim the SNP Government was presiding over “utter chaos” on the ferry network.

In recent years, the ageing nature of CalMac’s ferry fleet has led to delays and disruption on its routes.

These problems have been compounded by ongoing delays to Glen Sannox and Glen Rosa being built at Ferguson Marine in Port Glasgow.

The two ferries, which will ultimately serve routes in the west of Scotland with CalMac, are some six years late and are likely to cost around four times the original price of £97 million.

Ministers are also due to make a decision this summer over whether to directly award a contract to CalMac to continue running its network.

Mr Drummond was previously managing director of CalMac before becoming its chief executive in October 2022.

Duncan Mackison, former chief executive of CalMac’s holding company David MacBrayne Ltd, has been appointed interim boss until a permanent successor to Mr Drummond is found.

Scottish Conservative transport spokesman Graham Simpson said: “Robbie Drummond is now the latest scapegoat for the SNP’s ferries fiasco.

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“Mairi McAllan – as the SNP minister responsible – is presiding over utter chaos in Scotland’s ferry network.

“Not a single ministerial resignation has been offered over this scandal yet now the head of both CalMac and Ferguson Marine have been fired in the space of two weeks.

“The minister needs to urgently explain – not least to betrayed islanders – what is going on here and why she believes sacking CalMac’s top boss is a good idea.

“The buck ultimately stops with them over the failure to deliver lifeline vessels to our islanders.”

Scottish Labour transport spokesperson Alex Rowley said “The chaos on CalMac services is a direct result of the SNP’s woeful mismanagement of Scotland’s ferry fleet.“No matter who is in the top job in CalMac, islanders will continue to be let down until the SNP Government starts delivering the ferries we need.

“These lifeline services are central to the local economies of island communities and act as a link friends, family, work and healthcare.

“We need a real ferry replacement programme to boost resilience across the CalMac network and end the turmoil in these lifeline services.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat economy spokesperson Willie Rennie MSP said: “Another week, another resignation but still no SNP minister is carrying the can for the ferry chaos.

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“CalMac have had to cope with an ageing fleet and delayed new ferries thanks to the SNP Government."

A spokesperson for the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, which represents most CalMac staff, said: "This is a concerning development for our CalMac members and only comes a week after the sacking of the head of publicly-owned Ferguson Marine.

"We cannot tolerate any more instability. The Cabinet Secretary for Transport must take this opportunity to announce an extension of the existing Clyde and Hebrides ferry service contract and directly award it to CalMac."

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We thank Robbie Drummond for his contribution to CalMac and wish him well for the future.

“Decisions relating to the chief executive are for the chair to make, in consultation with the board.

"We welcome the chair’s decision to appoint an interim chief executive immediately and his intention to recruit a permanent managing director who can take the business forward in the best interests of the communities that rely on it, and in a way that maximises the benefits of the significant investment we continue to make in ferry services.”

The spokesperson said ministers’ responsibilities for appointments were limited to the chair and non-executive directors.

They said ministers and officials regularly discussed CalMac’s performance and the future direction of the company with the chair, like all public bodies sponsored by Transport Scotland.

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They said the CalMac chair formally advised Transport Scotland officials of his intentions in relation to the senior leadership of CalMac on March 25 and ministers were advised later the same day.

The spokesperson said the Scottish Government understood any settlement received by Mr Drummond would be contractual only.



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