Argyll Ferries Wins Dunoon-Gourock Ferry Tender

ARGYLL Ferries, the newly formed subsidiary of David McBrayne, has been named as the preferred bidder for the Dunoon-Gourock ferry service.

The new £10.6m contract includes a raft of major improvements to the service including a bigger and faster vessel and an increase in scheduled services.

Current timetable restrictions will be removed with operating hours extending into the early hours over weekends and fully integrating with adjoining rail services.

Other benefits include making use of the new breakwater sheltered pier at Dunoon. Improvements will also be made to the Gourock ferry hub.

Two passenger only ferries, the MV Ali Cat and another from Ireland to be named the MV Argyll Flyer, will be introduced by the end of next month subject to contracts being exchanged on June 7.

The tender was awarded for a passenger only service following a European Commission decision to not subsidise a passenger and vehicle service.

The privately-run Western Ferries route from McInroy’s point, Gourock to Hunter’s Quay near Dunoon will continue to provide vehicle ferry services. It was one of two other ferry operators bidding for the contract.

A spokesman for David McBrayne, which is owned by state-owned ferry operator Caledonian McBrayne, said the company was “delighted”.

However, he admitted that the news was tempered by potential job losses as the new service does not require the same staffing levels as the existing vehicle service.

“We will do everything we can to redeploy as many as possible into other parts of the network and we will be meeting with them to talk through their options,” he added.

Alex Neil, the newly announced Secretary for Infrastructure and Capital Investment, said: “I am pleased to announce that Argyll Ferries has been selected as preferred bidder. This bid is set to deliver real benefits for passengers with a larger boat and additional sailings, offering best value for money and protecting the majority of existing jobs.”

The tender was awarded to Argyll Ferries on the day that parent company Caledonian McBrayne formally named the latest addition to its fleet the MV Finlaggan.

Editor: For insights on this success for Argyll Ferries and the overall context of the Dunoon-Gourock tendering process, Neil Kay’s website is essential reading.

Anastasia Weiner

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18 Responses to Argyll Ferries Wins Dunoon-Gourock Ferry Tender

  1. A disgraceful betrayal of Dunoon and Cowal, replacing a competitive situation with an expensive monopoly, replacing a previously and still potentially profitable vehicle/passenger ferry service with a loss-making passenger only service which requires huge public subsidy and allowing a huge amount of visitor traffic to completely by pass a Dunoon which badly needs all the visitors it can get.
    An utter disgrace – and this matter is not finished yet

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  2. Posted for Prof. Neil Kay:

    It is difficult to know where to begin on this – spin is one thing but this goes well beyond belief.

    First to Dave McEwan Hill well done, you are an honest person who has slogged away over the years for the community and the SNP and I know how much this takes for you to say this.

    As for the press release…. First, don’t be deceived by the “Argyll Ferries”, it is still David MacBrayne and CalMac. As for the rest ….

    “A bigger vessel…” Not true, the Ali Cat which is not allowed out in waves of more than 18 inches is kept and Jupiter is replaced by a much smaller passenger-only vessel.

    “increase in scheduled services…” What is the point in extended hours if it is based around the likes of the Ali Cat that will spend much of its time tied up because of knee-height waves? Who will base their commuting around that? What company will accept the excuse that you could not make it into work today because of there was a bit of wind on the open sea and so the ferries would not sail?

    “The tender was awarded for a passenger only service following a European Commission decision to not subsidise a passenger and vehicle service”. Totally and utterly misleading and designed to be such. There was no such “decision”, it always the case for years that it was only the passenger side that would be subsidized, everyone understood and accepted that but the vehicle side would not need subsidy, and the Commission made it clear they fully accepted that a vehicle passenger service could run out that basis.

    I have put my analysis of what happened and why, and what could be done now here at

    Anyone interested in the background to this sordid and disgraceful saga see the various web links at the bottom of the front page of my website at

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  3. Well said, Dave….there’s enough spin in this press release to make one dizzy, but nothing can conceal the reality – this is a betrayal of trust which is positively obscene, and it’s going to cost the taxpayer dear.

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  4. dave re the subsidy cost if it has gone down from £3.2m to £1.7m does this mean that the vehicle service has costing and wasting the taxpayer £1.5m a year.

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  5. Mike Russell,s hope that this would bring an end to the controversy(Glasgow Herald) is i feel rather mis-placed. A sad start to Mr Russells tenure as MSP for this area.
    I await For Argylls editorial comment on this

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  6. what whingers – how many ferries do you guys need or use. you got the boats – now use them – or western or the road. 18 inch waves – are you having a laugh. go green – use new and better boat & train service to glasgow. leave your gas guzzlers at home.

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  7. How is a 250 passenger ferry going to cope during busy times? Some sailings can be really busy, and what about Cowal Games week? Lack of capacity could seriously affect the games!

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  8. Coracle’s idea of travelling by public transport all the way to work is a good one if you live in an ideal world. If I tried it I would arrive at my work about lunchtime and have to leave my house extremely early to do so. Just not practical! Western do run an excellent and efficient service but it is also (as outlined on Neil Kay’s website) a very expensive one, their ticket price is higher than Calmac’s which albeit subsidised, includes pier dues paid to Argyll and Bute Council for every passenger and vehicle using Dunoon pier and the running of vessels with considerably larger and less fuel efficient machinery and more crew. Western should be really cheap by comparison, but it isn’t, but then it is a private company with private investors and the only reason people make investments is to make more money.

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  9. My attempted further remarks about those who know nothing of this issue but who nevertheless seem determined to pontificate on it keep freezing and then disappearing.
    I will try again tomorrow.
    This decision is disgraceful and economically incoherent.

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  10. I’ve used the Western Ferries service on a few occasions when driving from Oban to Largs or Adrossan and found it very fast and convenient, with virtually a continuous shuttle running. It is a little expensive, but I understand that locals and regulars have access to much cheaper fares than casual users.

    Money is tight, so using public money to fund a duplicate service does not – at least superficially – seem to make a lot of sense to me. Of course, if you are a regular user of the disappearing service this will seem like a cut too far, but to an outside observer it seems logical. If the money for ferry subsidies is limited, far better surely that it go to remote island communities where there is no alternative.

    Regarding the monopoly now to be held on this one route (for vehicular traffic only) by Western Ferries – in what way does this differ from the CalMac monopoly on virtually every other route in Scotland? (And I ask because I really don’t know, not in an attempt to be clever or score points).

    Dave, re, vanishing posts – it happens a lot, I now always try and remember to copy my words to the clipboard before pressing the ‘submit comment’ button . It is incredibly frustrating if you have spent several minutes constructing a well-crafted reply only to have it vanish irretrieveably.

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  11. I suppose the main issue with a private monopoly is the fare costs, as Cal-Mac are controlled to a degree. What difference does it really make if you have to drive a few more miles at either side, depending where you are going to. Would getting larger passenger ferries that could sail in rougher weather defeat the reasoning of why not get vehicle/passenger ferries that would solve the issue.

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  12. Webcraft: Historically the duplicate service was not Calmac, but Western, who saw that there was enough business for two vehicle carriers on the route.

    Since that was three decades ago, and vehicle usage has increased vastly in the interim, it follows that there is even more business today, which seems to suggest that two competing services is far from over-provision.

    As for the Calmac monopoly on other routes, I suggest that the vast majority of them would be unattractive to potential rivals, simply because they would not make money, Apart, that is, from cash cows like the route in question – which is where cherry-picking comes into the equation….

    You are absolutely right when you point out that the money for ferry subsidies is limited, but the need for passenger subsidies on this route would be greatly reduced – or even eliminated entirely -if the promised unrestricted vehicle-passenger service had actually been delivered.
    The situation that has been created will require even greater levels of subsidy if it is to deliver as promised.

    And I echo Neil Kay’s comments about Dave Hill’s stance. There are many who will disagree with his politics, but the fact that he is standing four-square against his party line on this proves that he is both principled and courageous.

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  13. DunoonLad says “How is a 250 passenger ferry going to cope during busy times?” it actually is worse than that. Its capacity (244) is actually slightly less than Ali Cat (250) and it only has seating for 120 passengers. The most likely reason is that like Ali Cat they are including as capacity an open top deck which will never be used.


    For all the lies and misrepresentations, this looks to all intents and purposes like another Ali Cat

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  14. It is like Cluedo. All parties stated they wanted a vehicle service so why draw up a tender that mandated using the new linkspan thereby eliminating any possibility of the current (and only available) vehicle ferries being used? Why draw up a contract for a transport service with effectively no requirement for it to be reliable?

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  15. I think I’d put it down to all parties shying away from the need for serious investment in decent boats and facilities, and to some extent Western Ferries’ service must have let them off the hook.

    Just now the poor economic situation might have a bearing on what appears to be a thoroughly inadeqaute answer to what’s needed between Dunoon and Gourock, and whether the fact that people have been subjected to the delights of the Alicat for some time (albeit with a lot of criticism) means that the government and Argyll Ferries can get away with this standard of service for the full contract period remains to be seen.

    There surely needs to be clear demonstration to the politicians just how much better equivalent services can be elsewhere in the world.

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  16. Interesting exchange. Even more interesting that (Calmac / Calmal / David MacBrayne / Caledonian Steam Packet or whatever name it suits them to use for the meantime) have finally got a cat. One has to consider their motivation. Is it to prove that Catamarans are the future? Or is it to say “we told you so” when they merrily cancel sailings? The cat on the Pentland Firth seems to be fine- see
    So maybe worries about reliability will be unfounded. On capacity, surely it is the uplift per day that counts and I think even 100 pax times 30 departures comes to 3000 pax. From where I am sitting, on an island surrounded by water (note- surrounded), subsidising anybody to compete with an independent unsubsidised service seems very poor use of taxpayer’s money. But I think it is a great shame that the contract did not go to a truly independent organisation. How can Argyll Ferries say they are independent when they are using a Calmac e-mail address?

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  17. Well, for those wishing to travel home late from the mainland during Cowal, your luck might just be out.

    Argyll Ferries have cancelled the last two sailings in each direction. This is to allow them to provide more sailings during the day apparantly. I have contacted my local MP as this is not acceptable.

    In this case Aryll Ferries have made the decision based on their own resourcing plans (or lack of) and would at a glance breach the contract agreement with the Scottish Government.

    Is this how they mean to continue? I know for a fact Scotrail would be heaviliy penalised for such behaviour.

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