Comment posted Job losses of established staff follow SPT’s change of operator of Kilcreggan Ferry by Councillor George Freeman.
The proposed new contract for the Gourock – Kilcreggan ferry service was discussed at length at a meeting of Cove & Kilcreggan Community Council (CC) on 14 February. The meeting was attended by over 70 concerned members of the public. Those attending with me included Gerry Gaffney of the Ferry Users Group and Cllrs Billy Petrie and Daniel Kelly as the other two ward councillors.
Following a lengthy discussion, during which a wide range of concerns were raised, it was agreed that a meeting would be requested with Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT). It was agreed that those who would attend the meeting with SPT would include Nick Davies – Chair of the CC, myself as local councillor, Gerry Gaffney from the Ferry Users Group (who also has a great deal of technical knowledge) and Harry Cathcart who first raised this issue with me and who has a wide ranging financial background.
Prior to the meeting with SPT, I submitted further questions and FOI requests to SPT and information was gathered from Argyll & Bute Council (A&BC) and from other sources. As a result of the information gathered, I discovered that discussions on the renewal of the contract had been ongoing with Council officers and some councillors from as far back as May 2011. We also discovered that meetings took place with SPT and certain councillors at Blairmore in June 2011 when it was clear that there was an attempt to try and include Blairmore in the new contract.
I also discovered that Council officers had made the Chair of the Helensburgh & Lomond Area Committee aware of the threat to the Helensburgh link as far back as early November 2011. I asked the other 9 local councillors and Cllr Duncan MacIntyre if they were made aware of the threat to the Helensburgh link by the Chair of the Area Committee or by Council officers in November 2011. Four confirmed that like me, they only found out about the proposed change in January 2012. Unfortunately the other five local councillors and Cllr Duncan MacIntyre have not responded. It now appears that no political action was taken since November 2011 to try and ensure the Helensburgh link was retained.
The meeting with SPT took place on 29 February. Those representing SPT and the Council at the meeting were Gordon MacLennan (SPT Chief Executive) plus two of his officers, Cllr Duncan MacIntyre – SPT’s A&BC representative, Cllr Vivien Dance – Chair of Helensburgh & Lomond Area Committee and Cllr Daniel Kelly. Also attending was Mark Aikman from Clydelink who is due to take over the contract as from 1 April 2012.
At the start of the meeting, Harry Cathcart raised a number of financial issues with regards to Clydelink. He also stated that he considered that SPT had not fulfilled their responsibilities relating to the need for due diligence when awarding this contract. Questions were asked about financial checks undertaken by SPT and the funding of the construction costs of the new ferry.
Clydelink informed the meeting that the new ferry was currently being built at Southampton and is expected to be in place by 1 April 2012. Concerns were raised that although Clydelink had been dealing with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) at Southampton, no contact had been made with the MCA at Greenock who will have to approve the use of the new ferry on the route. Given these and other concerns that were highlighted, SPT directed Clydelink to make urgent contact with MCA Greenock to try and resolve these issues.
There was considerable discussion relating to the specification/class of the new vessel. Clydelink advised that the new vessel will be built to Merchant Shipping Notice 1699(M) Class V. Gerry Gaffney advised Clydelink that the Seabus was built to the EU Directive for Domestic Passenger Vessels (EU Directive 98/18) which is a much higher specification than Class 5 and the one which Clyde Marine had adopted as being appropriate for the Gourock – Kilcreggan route. SPT directed Clydelink to obtain information on the Directive with a view to having any improvements/modifications carried out on the new vessel before 1 April.
Gerry Gaffney then presented information relating to the dimensions of the proposed new ferry against the SEABUS, the Argyle Flyer and the Ali Cat and provided information on the number of cancellations for each of these vessels during Nov and Dec 2011. Based on the information available, concerns were highlighted that the number of cancellations due to adverse weather conditions could increase significantly when the new ferry was in service. The Clydelink representative stated that with regards to cancellations, he could not say what level of service he would be able to deliver. This is clearly a concern with regards to the reliability of the new service.
Clydelink confirmed that they had a Plan B and Plan C if the new vessel was not available for the 1st April. Plan B was a Class 5 specification vessel currently based in Oban. Plan C was the use of two ribs running back and forward across the river. SPT was advised that as the vessel based in Oban is a Class 5, it will also require improvements/modifications to bring it up to the EU Directive prior to being brought into service on the Gourock – Kilcreggan route.
We received confirmation from Clydelink that the ferry will be berthed by the crew using boat hooks. This is the reason why Council staff who currently carry out this work have been informed that they could be redeployed or even made redundant. Clydelink confirmed that the proposed berthing procedure would reduce their costs by £20,000. Cllr MacIntyre informed those present that he had only become aware of the potential implications for Council staff that morning.
With reference to an upcoming problem for berthing at the Kilcreggan Steps at Gourock, it was confirmed that a solution to the berthing problem had not been finalised. Although a proposal to berth 200 metres from the current location had been suggested, no decision had yet been taken on this issue.
Concerns were also raised during the meeting with regards to a number of other issues including projected passenger numbers, subsidy figures, risk assessments and changes to the berthing arrangements.
I hope that this information helps to bring readers up to date on this issue and also highlights why the community has serious concerns about the safety and reliability of the proposed new service.
Further information on this issue continues to come to light on a daily basis and I have no doubt that this issue has still got some way to run. Watch this space.
Councillor George Freeman also commented
- I am assuming that Harry is not including me when he ask “where are our Argyll and Bute Councillors who should be robustly protecting their constituents interests” as I have been working very closely with him on this issue over the past two months. As Harry is well aware, on issues such as this, I am like a dog with a bone. As Harry is also aware, questions have been put to our local councillors recently as to who knew what and when on this issue. Unfortunately a number have not answered the question for some reason.
Prior to the current problem with the ferry, I worked with Harry to ensure that those who are disabled and used the ferry could purchase their tickets on the train. Until then, Scotrail insisted that that they should go to the ticket office after coming off the ferry to purchase their tickets before getting on the train. This caused them to walk past the train to buy their ticket and by the time they did that, their train had often left.
As to the comments from Dave Forbes, I can assure him that Clydelink were absolutely serious when they said that their Plan C was to run ribs across the Clyde. I agree that I do not believe that MCA would approve such a proposal.
The main question at the moment is whether the proposed Clydelink vessel is a new build ferry or not. Although the decision to give the contract to Clydelink was based on the ferry being a new build vessel, the indications at this time are that it is not new build. Unfortunately SPT appear to be dragging their heals in asking MCA for information relating to this question.
Given some of the information that has been brought to my attention over the past 18 hours, it would not surprise me if the report to the SPR Operations Committee requesting a grant of £80,250 plus VAT for Clydelink on Friday morning was withdrawn. WATCH THIS SPACE.
- Although Clydelink stated categorically at the meeting with SPT last week that the ferry would be a new vessel, was currently being built in Southampton and had not been in service before, information that has now come to hand that suggests this may not be a new vessel.
One of the recommendations at the SPT Operations Committee on 20 January was that: (5) recommending that following re-advertisement of the service, contract 1923C1 Gourock – Kilcreggan ferry service be awarded to Clydelink Ltd at a cost of £874,760 for the contract period 1 April 2012 to 1 April 2017, based on the provision of a new build 60 seat vessel.
Given that this recommendation was accepted and the decision to award the contract to Clydelink was therefore based on “the provision of a new build 60 seat vessel”, if the ferry is not new, then this would fail to comply with the Operations Committee decision.
SPT have been asked to investigate as a matter of urgency.
Recent comments by Councillor George Freeman
- A83 closed both ways at Rest and Be Thankful
Here we go again. The problem is that, as a member of the regular travelling public on the A83, I can no longer depend on the route being open from one day to the next.
Land slips certainly appear to be occurring more frequently on the stretch of the A83 over the Rest and down beyond Butterbridge. The one good point is that the fencing that has been erected on the hillside at the Rest appears to have stopped larger rubble and boulders getting on to the road. This means that it should be possible to clear any material that gets on to the road much quicker which should minimise any closures.
Having said that, we should not forget that the rubble and boulders behind the fences will have to be removed at some stage and this will create further delays for the travelling public.
The latest update from BEAR at 10.45 am confirms that the emergency route through Glen Croe is now in operation. The problem being that they have highlighted that the delays in using this route will be up to 45 minutes. I am assuming that this is a conservative estimate.
Given the potential for a 45 minute delay, I would certainly be better just using the traditional detour via Crianlarich and Tyndrum as this only adds up to 30 minutes on to the journey to Lochgilphead. By using this route, at least I would be assured as to how long it was going to take me to travel to Lochgilphead and I could plan my journey accordingly.
It may be that I could arrive at the emergency route just as the convoy is leaving and would get through Glencroe with minimum delay (15 minutes). The problem is that it is likely that I would be at the end of a long stream of traffic including lorries / busses etc and would have to follow this long slow stream of traffic most of the way to Lochgilphead. If I arrive at Glencroe just after the convoy has left, then I know that I am going to have to wait at least 45 minutes before the next convoy can get me through Glencroe.
It really is time that the Scottish Government took this matter seriously and planned for investment that will address this problem once and for all. I should also point out that no extra trains are planes to Oban are going to assist me in any way when the A83 is closed and I need to travel to the Mid Argyll or Kintyre area.
- So how did this peninsular community NOT win the Creative Places award?
It was with great disappointment that I heard that the submission by the Rosneath Peninsula West Community Development Trust to the Creative Places Awards was just pipped at the post.
Those members of the Trust who put in so much time and effort to take this bid forward on behalf of all the communities across the Rosneath Peninsula have got to be congratulated for getting to the final stage of the Creative Places Awards.
I would encourage everyone to view the outstanding video that was included as part of their submission. Dave Dunbar, who shot and cut the video, is to be congratulated for a great piece of work which the Trust will be able to use to promote the Rosneath Peninsula in the future.
Congratulation to everyone concerned.
- Storm in a bathtub as Neil Kay goes over the side of the Expert Ferry Group
I have tried via the Scottish Government’s website and Transport Scotland’s website to establish details of all members of this Group. Unfortunately I have had no success. Maybe someone can point me in the right direction?
It is noted that the report in today’s Herald and the FA report above states that there are two ferry operators represented on the Group. My understanding is that this is NOT correct. I have been told that Gordon MacLennan, Chief Executive of Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT) is a member of the Group. As most readers will be aware, SPT is also a ferry operator as they are responsible for the Gourock – Kilcreggan ferry service.
Given the problems that our local communities experienced in the past relating to SPT and the Gourock – Kilcreggan ferry service, I am sure that this will raise some concerns locally as to what recommendations will eventually be forthcoming from this Group? Is this just a way of placing ferry issues on the back burner until after the next Scottish Government election?
No matter who is on this Group, it is essential that they are able to look at wider ferry issues and are not being parochial, and are not trying to influence decisions relating to a single ferry service.
- Shuffling the pack at Kilmory
Simon, although your comments are often spot on, on this occasion you have got it wrong. Although I know of others who have made such statements, I have never done so. Can you indicate where I made such a statement in the past please?
I believe that you should never burn your bridges as you never know when you will have to make a tactical retreat. A brief apology would suffice.
- Shift in perspective on Council Tax freeze – but is it being managed?
Graeme, you may not like it but the facts speak for themselves. I was there and I can confirm that of the 80 people in the room, only 6 supported the ongoing Council Tax freeze. This was not a hand-picked audience but were random individuals from all across Scotland. There was no comment or argument on the numbers from Rob Gibson SNP MSP who was on the political panel.
As an individual, I do not support the Council Tax freeze when I see services being cut as a result. As a property lawyer, you certainly would not be classed as vulnerable and will not have seen the worst of the service cuts. Why do you think the Council was proposing the closure of Struan Lodge Elderly Care Home? Why are we currently consulting on the massive cuts that have had to be imposed on the Amenity Services budget? The list goes on and on.
It is clear that without the Counil Tax freeze, service cuts would not be as severe as they are.
Although the freezing of the Council Tax sounds good, over the past seven years, the total saved by the average Band A Council Tax payer is only £258 (70p per week) whereas the wealthy in their Band H properties are saving £4-22p per week (six times the saving being achived by those at the lower end of the wealth scale).
I think that it is quite clear from these figures that it is the wealthy who benefit most from the SNPs policy on freezing the Council Tax.
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