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I am assuming that Harry is not including …

Comment posted Job losses of established staff follow SPT’s change of operator of Kilcreggan Ferry by Councillor George Freeman.

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the report to the SPR Operations Committee requesting a grant of £80,250 plus VAT for Clydelink on Friday morning was withdrawn.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.

Councillor George Freeman also commented

  • 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.

  • 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.

Recent comments by Councillor George Freeman

  • Boundary Commission recommendations reduce Scotland’s councillor numbers and wards – and Argyll & Bute takes most of the hit
    When referring to the reduction in the number of councillors, it is certainly not correct to say that “Argyll & Bute Council takes most of the hit”. If you take 2 minutes to check the numbers in other local authorities across Scotland, you will see that there are 8 local authorities who are facing a reduction of 3 or more councillors. These are Highland -6, South Lanarkshire -3, South Ayrshire -3, Dumfries & Galloway -4, Western Isles -4, Fife -3 and Borders -3. Based on population and the other criteria the Boundary Commission is required to take into account, I believe that the proposed reduction of 3 councillors in Argyll & Bute is fair and acceptable.

    Although the final proposals will not please everyone, and I am aware that there are some concerns about linking Cowal and Bute, I believe that the proposals that have now been passed to the Scottish Government are the best options available for Argyll & Bute and have addressed most of the concerns that were raised in the original proposals. I would therefore encourage the public to contact the Scottish Government by the deadline of 7 July to record their support for these proposals.

  • Final Tiree Community Council letter to Council on approaches to proposed service cuts
    I have now received confirmation that the Community Council letter dated 18th January 2015, that Mr Holliday accuses me if ignoring, was not received by me or other councillors. The reason that Cllr Breslin managed to respond to that letter was that he had been in contact with the secretary of the Community Council and received his own personal copy. I hope that this now clarifies the matter. I would advise Mr Holliday to email me in future if he wants to confirm that I have received correspondence from the Community Council as the electronic system never (or very seldom) lies. Best wishes to Tiree Community Council and all on Tiree.
  • Final Tiree Community Council letter to Council on approaches to proposed service cuts
    As I have pointed out to Tiree Community Council, I do not take kindly to being accused of ignoring correspondence from anyone. The letter that Mr Holliday states was sent to all councillors, was certainly not received by me. I have investigated and it now appears that no councillors received the letter dated 18th January. It appears that the reason Cllr Breslin responded was that he was given the letter separately by the Secretary of the Community Council. As I informed one of the Community Councillors yesterday evening, I am investigating further to try and determine why councillors did not receive that latter.
  • General Election part of the political Gallipoli of indy versus union
    RitchieMac, as you will be aware, the number of submarines changes as new Astute Class boats come into service and boats go out of service. Although it is irrelevant as to whether there are 14, 15, 16, 17 or 18 submarines, the point I was making is that the SNP will insist on referring to the 4 Trident boats only so as to try and down play the number of jobs that are at risk and the massive loss to the Argyll & Bute economy.
    Although the jobs numbers quoted may be a few hundred or so either way, it is noted that you have not challenged the approximate figures quoted and you have not tried to say that only 550 jobs are at risk if the SNP get their way which is the official line that the SNP continues to quote. You have also failed to comment on the line Brendan O’Hara argues “that the site could remain a base for existing submarines”. This is certainly NOT SNP policy.
    Do you agree with Brendan O’Hara that “Faslane and its current capacity is there and will stay”? How can this be? This is just a comment to try and gain a few extra votes.
    As part of the Maritime Change Programme, all of the UK’s submarine fleet is due to be based at Faslane. That is the reason for the additional jobs that are due to be created. As far as submarine numbers are concerned, there currently 4 Trident Class boats, 4 Trafalgar Class boats (was 5 but Tireless has just been laid-up), including the new boats in the pipeline, there will be 6 Astute Class boats and there are 7 boats laid-up at Rosyth. We can then add on to that the DSRV (Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicle). At no stage did I say that there would be 17 submarines at any given time.
    If you want to play with numbers as the SNP continually do, then based on the above numbers, there are 20 (if you only include 2 Trafalgar Class boats) that are currently based in Scotland or are due to be based in Scotland (excluding Tireless which is now laid-up in Devonport) that the SNP do not want here.
    From what Brendan O’Hara now says, nothing will change and these will all remain in Scotland? Can this man be believed?
  • General Election part of the political Gallipoli of indy versus union

    I note that some of For Argyll’s contributors were recently taking my name in vain and trying to attribute a number of comments on FA to me. Some of your contributors assumed that as information on Trident and Faslane had been placed on FA, this information must have come from me. Not so. I do have a wide range of information on this subject that I provide to many people and organisations so as to try and counter the misinformation that comes from the SNP and others who are opposed to Trident.

    I note that Brendan O’Hara, the SNP candidate for Argyll & Bute, has been quoted in the Press and Journal (P&J) on their Complete Guide to Voting report where he is trying to mislead the electorate. When referring to Trident and Faslane, the P&J reports that: “SNP candidate Brendan O’Hara, lives in Helensburgh and is well aware of the issues. He argues that the site could remain a base for existing submarines without the need to spend £100 billion on replacing Trident” “There is a common misconception that that the SNP will close Faslane, which is not the case at all” he said. “As much as I personally would like to see all nuclear weapons removed from Scottish soil, that is not on the agenda. So Faslane and its current capacity is there and will stay” he said.

    Although they do not like it being discussed in public, the SNP and Scottish CND have confirmed that they want all nuclear powered submarines removed from Scotland and not just the 4 Trident boats. Taking into account the new Astute Class boats, we are talking about a total of 17 submarines and not just the 4 that the SNP would have us believe.

    On Jobs, a Scottish Enterprise ECOS Study confirmed that a total of 10,598 jobs were dependent on Faslane. That figure does not include the additional 2,000 that are due to be created as a result of the Maritime Change Programme which would bring the total up to approximately 12,500 jobs. Dr Philips O’Brien of the University of Glasgow confirmed that compared with other similar sized countries, if Scotland was to get rid of Trident and have its own conventional forces, the total number of jobs that would be left would be 2,000. These would be split with 1,000 based on the east coast and 1,000 at Faslane. A loss of over 11,000 jobs in Argyll & Bute.

    The SNP are keen to highlight that the Trident replacement would cost £100 billion. What they do not say is that figure would be spread over the next 40 years (£2.5 billion per year). What they also keep quiet is that the welfare budget over the same period will be £10,380 billion (£260 billion per year). The cost of the Trident replacement is therefore less than 1% of the estimated welfare budget over the same period.

    Apart from the jobs that would be lost within Argyll & Bute if the SNP were to get their way, Argyll & Bute Council would potentially lose massive sums of Non Domestic Rates (NDR) and Council Tax income. The rateable value of MoD properties at Faslane, Coulport etc is over £17 million. Based on the current poundage rate, this would generate a potential annual loss of over £7.5 million in NDR to Argyll & Bute Council. If we then include the Council Tax or Contribution in Lieu of Rates that the Council receives from the living accommodation within Faslane, that financial loss is pushed up to approximately £8.5 million per year.

    These losses do not take into account the massive losses / costs that would be generated as a result of the massive redundancies that would result from the removal of all submarines from Faslane.

    I believe that these facts must be taken into account when people cast their votes tomorrow.

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