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
- Castle Toward a gone deal
Firstly I should say that I agree with much of what John Semple and Integrity say above (but not all). I should also say that some of the comments from individuals above are totally misguided and/or misinformed. As far as yesterday’s Council meeting is concerned, I believe that it is worthwhile clarifying a few issues.
I have produced many motions and amendments for Council and Committee meetings over the years, both as an opposition councillor and as an administration councillor. Many of these were straight forward and did not require advice from Council officers. Where an issue is even slightly complicated, sensitive or very important such as the Castle Toward issue, I would always take advice from Council officers on the competency of my draft motion/amendment well in advance of the meeting. Officers are always willing to give such advice to any councillor, be they part of the administration or not. I would never take the risk of turning up at a meeting with a motion or amendment that could be ruled incompetent. That would be a waste of everybody’s time and would not help me to achieve the result I was looking for.
It should be remembered that it is the Provost who rules on the competency of any motion or amendment. Advice will always be provided by the appropriate officers but the final decision is the Provosts. As far as yesterday is concerned, the view of the Legal Manager was provided before officers gave final advice on the competency of Cllr Breslin’s amendment to the Provost. Clear reasons were given as to why officers considered that the amendment was not competent. The Provost is in a no win situation whatever his decision. It would be a brave Provost or Chair of a Committee who would go against the advice of officers as they would have difficulty in justifying their decision.
I was most surprised to discover that Cllr Breslin had not taken advice from officers on the competency of his proposed amendment long before yesterday’s meeting. That is a massive risk to take, especially on such an important and controversial issue. Personally, I would never have taken that risk and would have obtained advice from officers so that I was confident that my motion / amendment was not going to be ruled as incompetent at the Council meeting. Even if I was to lose the vote, it would ensure that the issue was debated and that I managed to get my views across in public. If Cllr Breslin did consider seeking advice from officers, I can appreciate why he may have decided not to do that.
As Alan Stewart of SCCDC and many councillors (including Cllr Breslin) and Council officers will be aware, I spent a great deal of time working on Business Plans and valuations in the lead up to yesterday’s meeting and had prepared a wide range of questions/comments that I intended raising at the meeting. Unfortunately, because there was no competent amendment, I did not get the opportunity to raise any of these issues.
After the Provost had ruled Cllr Breslin’s amendment not to be competent, he asked if there were any other amendments. I was surprised that at that stage, none of those councillors (such as Cllr Marshall, Cllr Blair, Cllr Strong, Cllr Dance or Cllr Breslin), some with years of experience, who had clearly expressed support in the past for the sale of Castle Toward to SCCDC at the reduced price, did not bring forward another amendment. There was no need for them to provide a detailed amendment. All they had to do was to move that the matter be continued to another day. Although they may still have lost the vote, that would have allowed the matter to be debated in public and would have given them the opportunity to have a roll call vote which would have recorded the names of every councillor and how they voted. Unfortunately, they did not take that opportunity.
My understanding is that the record will now show that the decision taken by the Council yesterday on Castle Toward was a unanimous decision of the Council.
I hope that this helps to clarify a number of issues with regards to yesterday’s Council meeting.
- Castle Toward: the smoking gun
Newsroom states in her report that: “It is being said that members of the council’s administration were told by senior officers only last week that they had no option but to sell at the District Valuer’s price”.
For the avoidance of any doubt, as a current member of the Council’s Administration, I can categorically state that no such statement has ever been made by any Council officer or Member of the Council at any meeting that I have attended.
- Council Planning Committee meeting on 21st January promises to be lively – as 2 MSPs call for postponement
Integrity, I agree. When dealing with any planning application, especially those such as wind farms, fish farms and nuclear facilities that tend to attract a large number of representations (often from out with the UK), councillors are reminded that it is up to them to decide how much weight they apply to individual representations.
I would normally give much more weight to an objection or letter of support from someone who lives next to a proposed development and will see it on a daily basis than one from someone living at the other end of the country or in another country who is unlikely ever to see the development. I can only speak for myself but I am sure that the same applies with most councillors.
Many of the objections that were received against this planning application were clearly “political comment” and were highlighted as such by Planning Officers in their report to Committee and were certainly not material to the determination of the application. All the objections and the Planning Officer’s report are available on the Council website for anyone to view.
- Council Planning Committee meeting on 21st January promises to be lively – as 2 MSPs call for postponement
As a member of the Planning, Protective Services and Licensing Comittee (PPSLC), I can confirm that what Integrity says is correct. This planning application was approved today.
Looking at the comments from Michael Russell above, I have to laugh. He said: “I call on Argyll and Bute Council to postpone the meeting to allow objectors to be present, given the strong feelings in my constituency that further nuclear development at Faslane is unacceptable”. What he does not say is that Faslane is NOT in his constituency. It is in Jackie Baillie’s constituency which includes over 30% of the Argyll & Bute population. It is also clear from the report that approximately 90% of those making representations do not live within Michael Russell’s constituency and are therefore not his constituents.
Michael Russell also says that: “One week is simply not enough time for substantial representations to be made”. He does not appear to realise that this planning application has been available for the public to make representations on since October last year. Over 700 representations were made on this application and all of these representations were submitted last year. It is clear from this that the public had months to make representations on this application and not just one week as Michael Russell puts it.
If Michael Russell felt so strongly about this issue or shared the concerns he says his constituents have, why did he NOT bother to submit any representations himself?
Michael Russell called on “Argyll and Bute Council to postpone the meeting to allow objectors to be present”. If Michael Russell believes that the “objectors” felt so strongly about this application, he may wish to say why no “objectors” bothered to turn up? One person was sitting in the public area of the Council Chambers throughout the whole of the PPSLC meeting and, although I may be wrong, they appeared to be a local reporter.
It is also noted that Stuart McMillan, who is a list MSP and not a constituency MSP, called on the “local authority to postpone the meeting to allow the time for those concerned to play their part in the decision making process”. He also said that he had “been contacted by constituents who are angry and frustrated at this lack of transparency by Argyll and Bute Council”. It should be pointed out that this planning application was treated in exactly the same way as any other planning application. Given that over 700 people made representations, it is clear that all those concerned DID play their part in the decision making process. It is also clear from the level of representations that, as with any other planning application, the Council was fully transparent and that the public had (and took) the opportunity to play their part by making their views known to the Council.
Like Michael Russell MSP, Stuart McMillan MSP obviously did not feel strongly enough about this application to bother making any representations.
Michael Russell states that this is “further nuclear development” at Faslane as if this was an escalation of the local nuclear facilities. Although not a planning consideration, this proposal is to provide one modern facility to replace the current two aging facilities that deal with waste materials and is a welcome modernisation.
- Save Castle Toward campaign brings it on home to Walsh and MacQueen
Isla, from your comments, it certainly appears that you are on the inside and probably a councillor. I can assure you that there is no fight between Cllr McCuish and me to take over the position held by Cllr Dance. As far as I am aware, there certainly has been no suggestion that Cllr Dance will be removed from her position and, as far as I am concerned, such a change has never been mentioned or considered.
Why should such a change be considered? Councillors within the Administration are free to vote as they wish but would be expected to give warning to the Group / Administration if they were going to vote against the Group / Administration. I have repeated on a number of occasions that I would not be part of any political Group / Administration where a whip was applied.
If you can find one person who has said that I want to take on the position held by Cllr Dance then you should name them as, to put it bluntly, they are a liar.
It should be clear to anyone who knows my history that I, as an Independent councillor, do not “do as I am told by Morton, Mulvaney, Walsh, or Kelly” as you put it or any of the other 31 councillors. I try to work with all councillors and seek consencus but, if there is an issue that I feel strongly about, I will not toe anyone’s line as was clear 4 years ago during the schools closure debate. At that time I stuck to my guns and was thrown out of the Administration that was in place at that time for doing so and lost the extra responsibility allowance that went with my position. My reputation is more important to me than money.
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