Tag Archives: transportation

Twin Otters for Tiree

twin_otter

Two new aeroplanes have been ordered to serve the lifeline air service to Barra, Tiree and Campbeltown.

The Twin Otter aircraft have been specially selected as they are able to land on Barra, the world’s only scheduled service with a landing strip on a beach.

The contract to supply the new planes to link the islands with Glasgow has been awarded to Canadian company Viking Air Limited. The route is officially designated as a public service obligation (PSO) and would not be commercially viable without support from the Scottish Government. Viking Air Limited will provide the two Twin Otter DHC6-400 aircraft. No figure for the contract has yet been disclosed, but the tender was between £5 million and £7 million.

Transport Minister Keith Brown said he was “delighted” that a supplier had been secured. “We expect to take delivery of the new planes next May and for them to be up and running on the routes shortly afterwards. By purchasing our own aircraft, we will also encourage more competition when the contract for operating the PSO routes comes up for renewal. We will be looking at ways to enhance these services and will engage with passengers, local businesses and other interested parties to look at potential improvements. These new planes mean our PSO routes to Campbeltown, Barra and Tiree will continue to be reliable and attractive to travellers. The communities served by these flights can now look forward to seeing new planes operating on the routes next summer.”

Subsidy has been paid by the Scottish Government on the Glasgow-Tiree and Glasgow-Barra route since the mid-1970s.

Scarinish Pier Car Park Closing

Car park closing sign Isle of TireeMay 2014 sees the beginning of Argyll and Bute Council’s £1.1million road reconstruction project which will tackle road surfaces on all of the public roads on Tiree.

Last week Co-op shoppers were greeted with a notice stating that ‘All cars must be removed from the Pier Car Park by Monday 28th of April’. Karen Jameson confirmed that Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) will be facilitating Argyll and Bute Council in their endeavour to re-surface the roads. We decided to get in touch with Mark Calder from Argyll and Bute Council to find out more:

“Argyll and Bute Council is currently undertaking £1.1million of road surface dressing work on all of the public roads on Tiree as part of the 2014 roads reconstruction project. The council has commissioned Kiley Brothers, one of the UK’s leading specialists in carriageway and footway surface treatments, to carry out the work on our behalf.

“ The public car park at the pier head is not publicly maintained; and the contractor needs storage space for up to 300 tonnes of surface dressing material and this is the ideal location. The council has obtained written approval from CalMac to use the car park. Notices have been placed locally to advise of the closure and those businesses directly affected have been informed. The material will be delivered to the island in three separate loads, with the first one expected on May 7th. The programme of works indicates completion by the end of May; however, this is dependent on the weather.”

Losing this parking space, which is already congested at busy times from Easter onwards, leaves us wondering where on earth people will park at the pier… Catriona MacLennan, a concerned local business owner has also been in touch.

Catriona, who is firstly delighted that road improvements are being carried out also raises some of her concerns about the impact that this work will have on her business.

Catriona expressed that “No alternative parking is being provided for ferry users. Congestion to MacLennan Motors fuel and garage will be intensified. The road at the top of the pier to the left is a dead end and no sign is in place to inform travellers coming off the ferry who park all around the area making access more difficult.” She also stated that “Communication with the local public and businesses in the area has been non-existent, which is extremely disappointing.”

The Local Community Development Trust states that, “It’s great that money is being spent on the roads, however, it’s unfortunate that as well as the disruption that upgrading the roads will cause, there will be further disruption and congestion at the pier during this busy time of the year.”

Further communication with Finlay McRae of CalMac assures us that “there will be no impact or change to ferry operations at Scarinish”

 

Sophie Isaacson & Louise Reid

Transport Minister Shows Surprising Lack of Knowledge of Island Ferry Services

“This is no way to run a country”

Tobermory, Kerrera, and Tarbert ferry ports are set for new year facelifts thanks to a £2.7 million funding boost.Transport minister Keith Brown said:

“This funding comes as part of a package of £205 million investment in ‘shovel ready’ schemes by the Scottish Government across the country. Our ferry ports play a crucial role in supporting the delivery of ferry services across Scotland and are key economic drivers for some of our key industries like tourism and food and drink. We have already directly committed £26 million to maintaining and improving ports and harbour infrastructure since 2007, and have set out a further £73 million in our recently published ferries plan for improvements to port infrastructure over the next decade.”

He added:

“Vital maintenance work to the port at Tobermory – one of the key ferry hubs serving routes to Coll, Tiree, the Uists and Barra – can start. The £600,000 of work at Tobermory harbour, including new concrete and steelwork installed to the slipway walls as well as re-pointing of the masonry, will support local jobs during construction.”

Now, forgive me if I’ve got this wrong, but didn’t Mr Brown – the man who removed RET from commercial vehicles to Coll, Tiree & the Western Isles; the man who ignored the independent report on the damage that this action could cause to fragile island economies – just say that Tobermory is ‘one of the key ferry hubs serving routes to Coll, Tiree, the Uists and Barra’ ???? It seems unbelievable but true, that the Transport Minister for the Scottish Government does not realise that CalMac ferries from Oban bound for Coll & Tiree, Castlebay & Lochboisdale, used to call in at Tobermory – but have not done so for a long, long time!

In 1999 a Labour / Liberal coalition government was formed on 7th May following the first ever Scottish Parliamentary Election, with Donald Dewar elected as First Minister. Queen Elizabeth II officially opened the Scottish Parliament on 1st July. Elsewhere in 1999 the Euro was established; the Columbine High School massacre occurred in Colorado; Slobodan Miloševi? agreed to withdraw Serbian forces from Kosovo; the Khmer Rouge was officially disbanded in Cambodia; and Médecins Sans Frontières won the Nobel Peace Prize. One thing that DID NOT happen in 1999 was the ferry to Tiree calling at Tobermory, which Mr Brown describes as one of the key ferry hubs serving routes to Coll, Tiree, the Uists and Barra.

In 2000 Donald Dewar died and was succeeded as First Minister and Scottish Labour leader by Henry McLeish. Elsewhere in 2000 Dr. Harold Shipman wass found guilty of murdering 15 patients and sentenced to life imprisonment; the billionth living person in India was born; and the U.S. Supreme Court stopped the Florida presidential recount, effectively giving the state, and therefore the Presidency, to George W. Bush. One thing that DID NOT happen in 2000 was the ferry to Tiree calling at Tobermory.

The Tiree ferry did not call at Tobermory in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, or 2005. In 2006 ‘Transport Scotland’ began operation as an agency of the Scottish Executive, but still the Tiree sailing did not stop in Tobermory. When Keith Brown was appointed Minister for Transport in 2010 the ferry to Tiree did not call at Tobermory, nor did it in 2011 when the Draft Ferries Plan was produced. In fact, the last time the ferry from Oban to Coll & Tiree did stop at the ‘key ferry hub of Tobermory’ was 1998, the year that Frank Sinatra died; Google was founded; the Good Friday Agreement was signed; and Bill Clinton was impeached over the Monica Lewinsky affair.

The Editor contacted Keith Bown for comment, even providing him with a draft of this article. Mr Brown did not reply in person, instead An Tirisdeach received the following statement from the Transport Scotland Press Office:-

“The role that Tobermory has played, and continues to play, as an important port in the network of services in the Clyde and Hebrides should not be lost in all of this. That is why the Scottish Government has provided the significant funds for the maintenance and upgrade of the ferry port at Tobermory. The reference as worded, which was an administrative oversight on the part of the officials has been edited on Transport Scotland’s news page to accurately reflect the ferry port’s current role in serving local communities.”

Alan Reid, Liberal Democrat MP for Argyll & Bute, was happy to reply to The Editor. He said:- “While I am always pleased to see work being carried out to improve harbours, it is extremely worrying that the Scottish Transport Minister and his civil servant advisers aren’t aware ferries no longer sail from Tobermory to Coll, Tiree, the Uists and Barra. Sailings now only go to Kilchoan. It’s very concerning that millions of pounds of public money are being spent by a Minister who lacks a basic knowledge of his brief.

“This is no way to run a country. What I think has gone wrong is that the present Scottish Government is putting all its efforts into campaigning in the Independence Referendum and not paying enough attention to the difficult job of running the country.”

Scottish Ferry Services Plan 2013-2022

The recently announced ten-year Ferry Plan was made public in late December with Transport minister Keith Brown saying:

“The long-term future of ferry services in Scotland is vital not only for Scotland’s economic well-being but also for the people in our island and remote communities.Having concluded an extensive consultation which saw over 2000 responses… we are laying out how we will expand and improve ferry services across Scotland. Despite the substantial financial pressures placed on us by Westminster, we are determined to make good on our promise to deliver improved ferry services on a progressive basis and the final ferries plan will be our cornerstone in doing just that.”

The new plan impacts upon Tiree in three ways:- Service; RET; and Fares. The full document is available on-line but An Tirisdeach has included the elements relevant to Tiree here.

Coll & Tiree Service Provision

Assessment of Current Service Provision

Our routes and services needs-based assessment tool allows us to make an evidence-based assessment of current services for Coll & Tiree. The key difference between the current and model service profiles is the number of sailing days during the winter time-table period.The model service profile requires a daily service from Coll & Tiree during the winter period.

Future Service Provision

The Draft Ferries Plan consulted on the requirement to improve the number of sailing days in the winter period, with a commitment to extend the time-table to six operating days per week. The commitment was subsequently welcomed, although very few responses were received from residents of Coll & Tiree. Representation was also made, mainly from Mull residents, about the possibility of a limited number of sailings calling in at Tobermory.

Short term – winter 2013/14

Currently The Clansman provides an all year service for Coll & Tiree. The service is augmented during the summer time-table period with Lord of the Isles (LOTI). The difference in sailing days between the summer and winter time-table periods is because of the availability of these two vessels in the summer, as opposed to one vessel during the winter time-table period, as she is used as a relief vessel when the larger vessels in the fleet are rotated through their annual refit programme. The proposal for the winter of 2013/14 is to deploy the Isle of Arran to ensure a two-vessel service for Coll & Tiree during the winter period. The operational impact of this decision will be to provide an additional sailing day during most of the winter time-table period (the current winter time-table will apply during the annual 4 week refit period for the Isle of Arran).

Longer term – commencing 2016

In the long-term the Isle of Arran will not be available during the winter time-table period for this route (it will be deployed on the Firth of Clyde). The proposal for the new Oban-Craignure service during the summer period will see two vessels operate on this particular route. One of these vessels will be deployed during the winter time-table to Barra, Coll & Tiree to enable the improved level of service to continue to be delivered. At this time we will also consider what services may be offered to improve the level of provision within the new time-table.

Coll & Tiree Road Equivalent Tariff (RET)

Commitment

RET for passengers, cars including small commercial vehicles, and coaches to become a permanent feature on routes to the Western Isles, Coll & Tiree.

Additional RET concessions

Commercial vehicle length – extension of definition of commercial vehicle from 5m to 6m.

Hay & Livestock – Returning lorries carrying hay or livestock travel free when empty, other than a charge to cover pier dues.

Shellfish – an exemption to the weight limit for Light Goods Vehicles less than 6m in length, carrying live shellfish, to allow them to qualify for non-commercial vehicle rate.

Large Commercial Vehicles

At the completion of the RET Pilot Study on the Western Isles, Coll & Tiree, Scottish Ministers were persuaded that there was not a compelling case to retain RET for commercial vehicles. Recognising the financial implications of such a decision for hauliers, a transitional protection scheme is currently in place for commercial vehicles on the Western Isles, Coll & Tiree.

A study on freight fares is currently underway on the Western Isles, Coll & Tiree economies. The findings of this study will be used to inform future fares policy for commercial vehicles. Our intention is to first consider the findings and then set up a working group to take this forward and will consult with key stakeholders as we do this.

Future RET formula

Our Draft Ferries Plan indicated that further work was required around the precise rates for RET. We have now carried out this work and have set an updated RET formula. This formula has been applied to the pilot for Islay, Colonsay & Gigha and steps will now be taken to introduce this to the Western Isles, Coll & Tiree.

EDITOR’S COMMENT

Service

The new plan has committed to providing one extra sailing per week by deploying Isle of Arran to run alongside The Clansman in the short term, and a vessel from the Oban-Craignure route alongside The Clansman in the longer term. However, the plan itself recognises that this only partially meets the Scottish Government’s own Needs-based Assessment, which recognised a need for daily winter sailings! Are people on Tiree happy with an increase to five winter sailings per week or do they believe that there ought to be a daily ferry throughout the year? Alan Reid MP said: “The Ferries Review is disappointing for Tiree and Coll. The draft review had stated that the Scottish Government wanted to move to a service that operates for at least six days per week during the winter period, but the Ferries Review will only give one extra sailing. Tiree & Coll will only get sailings 5 days a week for most of the winter and still only 4 days during a 4-week period. In this day and age six sailings a week is the minimum acceptable service and I will keep supporting the campaign for this.”

RET

The plan details how the Scottish Government has provided an interim protection scheme for Coll & Tiree to reduce the impact of the removal of RET from commercial vehicles. It outlines the ongoing study on this decision on our island economies and commits to the establishment of a working group and consultation process once this study is completed. The Editor believes that it is essential for Tiree to be properly represented during this process. Tiree must have its voice heard so that we do not then suffer the financial implications of hugely increased haulage fares. An Tirisdeach will be reporting on this process on a regular basis and welcomes comments from the community.

Coll & Tiree Fares

The Press and rival politicians have jumped on the announcements of these new fares calculated by the updated RET formula, which links fares to the cost of travelling an equivalent distance on land. The average increase will be 8.2% for passenger, car and small commercial vehicle fares, and there will be a cap of 10.6% across all routes.

Transport minister Keith Brown said: “the update reflects the current costs of driving a car. The additional revenue generated by applying the updated RET formula for passengers, cars and small commercial vehicles will be reinvested in commercial vehicle fares, in order to reduce the impact of the removal of RET for commercial vehicles on services to the Western Isles, Coll & Tiree.”

Labour infrastructure spokesman Richard Baker said: “It has taken over two years to publish this ferries plan, but now it has finally been revealed, Ministers are seeking to alleviate the effect of their regrettable and damaging decision to scrap RET for commercial vehicles on routes to Coll, Tiree and the Western Isles, but are doing so in the context of fare hikes across the routes which will be damaging to the economies of island communities.”

Argyll & Bute MP Alan Reid said, “These inflation busting ferry fare increases of up to 10.6% are daylight robbery. The SNP are robbing islanders with 10% ferry fare rises. The SNP’s excuse – that the price of petrol has risen – is pathetic. According to the AA, the price of petrol has only gone up by just over 1% during the past year.” As one on-line commentator noted: “Whatever the basis used to calculate fares, it is not ‘Road Equivalent Tariff’ – that would be 45p per mile for a passenger vehicle. So, the 63 miles from Oban to Tiree should be £28.35 (£0.45 x 63). In fact, it is £56.75 – double what an RET fare should be. All fare reductions and discounts are welcome, of course, but it is wholly misleading to call the current scheme a ‘road equivalent tariff’ system.” However, if the Scottish Government is true to its word and does indeed reinvest the revenue from increased fares into helping to pay for offsetting the removal of RET for HGVs on Western Isles, Coll and Tiree ferries, then for once Tiree might actually benefit.. Chris MacRae, the Freight Trading Association’s head of policy for Scotland said: “We welcome the announcement of the Ferries Plan, and particularly the recognition that the impact of the removal of RET for HGVs must be mitigated. Freight and HGVs are a vital part of ensuring the viability and economic stability of island communities. The working group that the Scottish Government commissioned is reviewing the study into the impact of the removal of RET for HGVs. This report is due soon, so recognition that the effects of removal of RET for HGVs need to be mitigated is welcome news. What we need to see going forward is evidence-based policy making.”

Tiree Resource Club New Mini-Bus Arrives!!

Photo by Ian Sharp

Tiree now has a new community bus. After two years of fantastic support from Jane Isaacson, the Resource Club were awarded a grant to purchase a mini bus and employ an outreach worker.

Resource Club is very pleased to welcome Christine MacDonald into the post and hope she enjoys all the challenges ahead! The bus is very much a community resource and is available for all community groups to use but please bear with us over the next couple of months as we work out the best method of managing this so everyone is happy.

The club is currently looking at instigating a library run. Individuals are welcome to book the bus for appointments but we are trying to combine trips as fuel is expensive. It would be good if community groups could identify drivers within their ranks as we will require copies of clean licences for insurance purposes.

We would ask that in all instances that the ring-and-ride service is utilised before the community bus as this is the principal transport service on the island.

Anyone who wants to come to the Resource Club for a meal and good company please contact Christine on the number below and we will arrange pick up. Many thanks and we will be publishing the guidelines for usage in the next edition. Meanwhile, Christine’s contact number is 07776422476.

RET And Hauliers

road to the oceanThe Tiree Branch of the Scottish Crofting Federation have been in touch with Keith Brown, Transport Minister in the Scottish Government, with regard to the removal of RET on Commercial Vehicles on ferries. The plan is to replace RET with an amended system of the former “bulk discount rate” which had been in place prior to the introduction of the RET pilot three years ago.

While RET is now extended to vans five metres or less in length, the fact is that most commercial carriers use vans six metres and over in length as five metre vehicles are few and far between. Crofters fear that the Scottish Government is sacrificing the former commercial RET for the sake of introducing RET to other islands without putting any more money into the scheme. One crofter said it does`not bear thinking about what the cost of freight to the island will be if RET is not reintroduced to commercial vehicles.

The Scottish Government report “Assessment of the impacts of the road equivalent tariff” pointed out that RET has made a positive impact on haulage businesses by lowering costs. The reports states that hauliers recorded savings amounting to an estimated 50% of ferry costs, and that whilst all of these savings might not have been passed on to the customers directly it allowed hauliers to offset other increased costs and therefore enabled prices to be pegged where they would otherwise have increased. Despite this, the Scottish Government recently announced the exclusion of commercial vehicles from the newly-extended RET, announcing instead that they would ‘replace RET for larger commercial vehicles on the Western Isles, Coll & Tiree, with an enhanced pre-RET discount scheme’. There is widespread concern that islanders will lose out heavily as a result of these proposed changes. David Muir of the Scottish Crofting Federation said:

“the SCF are calling on the Scottish government to provide urgent clarity on the situation as we are concerned that a reintroduced discount system could take away a great deal of the support that RET has brought to smaller hauliers. Any resulting increase in ferry fare cost will be passed on to customers.”

. Mr Muir concluded that “to support the fragile island economies what is needed is a fair syatem that retains the cost savings for hauliers and other commercials gained in the RET scheme”.
MP Angus MacNeil has called for clarity quickly on the new proposed ferry fares for hauliers if the government continues with its current proposal to get rid of RET for lorries. He said “the decision to remove RET from the hauliers is a mistake. The removal of RET will ultimately lead to an increase in prices for customers in our islands. I will be pressing for a meeting with the trasnport minister early in the year. Meanwhile a campaign group, hauliers for RET, has been assembled to both work on the RET case and to dispel the myth that arose in Edinburgh that island hauliers did not want RET. If this is not sorted freight costs and prices will go up which could ultimately impact on jobs” David Wood, the spokesman for “Hauliers for RET” commented that
“RET has benefited the islands and to remove it from the haulage industry will be detrimental to the whole community. Ultimately our customer will have to pay.”
The Scottish Ferry Services Draft Plan for Consultation states in the short term we are replacing RET for larger commercial vehicles on the Western Isles, Coll and Tiree, with an enhanced pre- RET discount scheme because:-

  • The RET evaluation report shows that savings made by hauliers through RET have generally not been passed on to the consumers.
  • In 93 per cent of cases, the reduction in ferry fares arising through the RET Pilot have been wholly or partially absorbed at some stage in the supply chain, without being fully passed on to customers. Only 7 per cent of firms in the sample of businesses indicated that the savings had been passed on in full throughout the supply chain from both their suppliers and on to their customers.
  • The cost of rolling out RET to larger commercial vehicles is an estimated 40 per cent of the total cost of RET. ? Before the introduction of RET, hauliers received discounts to their fares up to a maximum of 15 per cent dependent on their volume of business with CalMac. Island hauliers told us when we rolled RET out that they were concerned mainland hauliers would be able to compete more effectively with them now that the same discounts applied to all hauliers. We will reinstate the pre-RET discounts that were enjoyed by hauliers and increase for the Western Isles, Coll and Tiree the maximum discount from 15 per cent to 25 per cent.
  • For the Western Isles, Coll and Tiree the Government is considering how to extend the current discount eligibility criteria for hauliers.
  • The Government is open to discussing with businesses which use larger commercial vehicles the most equitable formula which could be used to apply these discounts so that they benefit both larger and smaller companies.
  • These improvements to the discount will be made for the Western Isles, Coll and Tiree only, where hauliers have received the RET discount since October 2008. While the discount has not been passed on to consumers we accept that in these difficult financial times some hauliers may find it difficult to now pay a fully increased fare. The increase to the maximum discount reduces the impact on these hauliers. We will revisit the discount again when we renew the Clyde and Hebrides contract in October 2013.
  • We will look in the next CHFS tender to extend the current definition of a commercial vehicle from 5 metres to 6 metres. This will be consistent with the position in the Northern Isles

Will We Lose The Saab 340

Saab 340 aircraft

At a meeting on Monday 6th December the Tiree Airport Consultative Committee (TACC) members agreed to contact the Scottish Government’s Transportation Division following revelations and recent press comment that the Government, through their asset owning agency Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL), are planning the imminent purchase of two new Twin Otter aircraft from Canada for use on the Campbeltown, Barra and Tiree routes.

All three `lifeline’ routes are financially supported by the Scottish Government through a mechanism called `public service obligations’, or PSO’s for short. TACC members have learned that the Scottish Government Transportation Department Officials and Minister have already visited Barra to give assurances and to make promises to the public with regard to the future of the Glasgow to Barra air service.

While the Twin Otter has been an excellent aircraft for Tiree, and is apparently the only aircraft that can continue to serve Barra with the unusual beach take off and landing, members of the TACC felt that the needs of each island are quite different, as Tiree passenger numbers have steadily grown over recent years due to the introduction by Loganair/FlyBe on the Glasgow-Tiree route of the Saab 340. Resilience, and also the capacity to grow the Glasgow-Tiree service, should our route be served purely by the new Twin Otter aircraft, were two concerns expressed by TACC members.

Kenny Crawford, Head of Aviation Transport Scotland, has been invited to visit Tiree to discuss the island’s needs and to explain the Government’s proposals and vision for the future of Glasgow – Tiree PSO. He has agreed to come in the New year and has said that no decision on ordering aircraft will be made before 2012.

Any community group/s that have concerns regarding the Government proposals should make their views known to Ann Kirby at the Tiree Trust who will be coordinating a response to the Scottish Government’s Transportation Department.

Highland Airways

Highland Airways appears to have found someone to rescue it from its recent troubles.

The Inverness based firm, which employs about 100 people, had restricted bookings for flights while talks were held to secure new investment.

Flights for February have been restored and the firm has said discussions with a potential new partner are going well.

Flights in March and beyond will be available for booking soon. Let’s hope this is settled in the near future as the flights between Oban and Tiree are of great benefit to the Island.

Cal-Mac Chaos?

g_chalmersI’m sure that following the events of Friday 29th to Sunday 31st May there must have been a few raised eyebrows when I was quoted in the Oban Times as commending Calmac Route Manager Ian Fox for his efforts following the breakdown of the Clansman.

I must say that on Saturday morning at 6.30am in Craignure, with a cup final ticket in my pocket, I was far from happy to be told that the first sailings from either side had been cancelled; I mean a cup-final is pretty time-sensitive – after all, 56,000 people are hardly going to wait for me to get to Hampden.I had to do some serious rearranging, but I finally made it with two minutes to spare.

I arrived back in Mull on the Sunday and started to get stories about the various inconveniences visited upon travellers throughout Saturday and Sunday with many more cancellations, and it became apparent there would also be disruption to other islands which would filter through to me later. I therefore asked Ian Fox for a full detailed timeline and the rationale behind what had been done to secure services to the islands. The very next day Ian obliged with an email that ran to 4 pages and gave a full picture of the scale of the disruption and how decisions were arrived at to provide services to Tiree, Coll, Castlebay, and Mull.

It is obvious that Mr Fox and his Masters and their crews worked extremely hard to try and maintain services while what had seemed a routine repair originally expected to take 6 hours ran into two days. Some points were made in the Email which are worth passing on.

Replacement vessels are not easy to locate for these routes. Early on Saturday enquiries with regional manager at Islay about the availability of MV Isle of Arran showed this vessel fully booked for every sailing on Saturday up to 8.20 pm. It then sailed to Oban and performed an improbable overnight return journey to Lochboisdale. Required rest periods meant a further reshuffle and further disruption.

I am sure your readers do not need me to tell them about the delays on the Coll and Tiree services. What is clear is that there is much to be praised about the way the local staff and management performed, but there are nevertheless questions about how this situation can arise.

Why is it so difficult to get replacements if one vessel breaks down and why is the result so seemingly chaotic? In truth there are a variety of contributing factors, never forgetting that vessels DO break down and staff DO need to rest. Not all vessels can get into all piers. Even if there was another vessel in the fleet it would be running a regular route rather than lying idle waiting for a breakdown, so unless you have an entire crew and vessel to spare at any time (dream on!) there will always be a reshuffle and the attendant cancellations and delays- it’s just inherent in the system.

At Ferry Consultations over the Spring I have heard it said that Calmac’s fleet needs a capital investment of some £30m to start to address the ageing state of the fleet. Lead times on new build ships are several years. Even if three new ships were ordered now, they wouldn’t come into service till 2013 or later. None of this makes particularly happy reading but I am glad the Government is trying to establish a long-term ferry strategy to identify and work to resolve these types of problems before the system breaks down entirely.

I can be reached on 01688 302 689 or by email on gordon.chalmers@argyll-ukbute.gov.