Cowal Games loss of major pipe band contest: Chair’s statement says it all

As  it announced earlier this week, Argyll’s biggest annual event, the Cowal Gathering in Dunoon, will no longer host the only non-international major pipe band championships of the year, the last of the five, following the Scottish, British European and World championships.

The Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association [RSPBA] informed the Chair of the Games, Ronnie Cairns and Event Manager, Malcolm Barclay that, after this year, 2013, should the event bid to hold another major pipe band championships, it would not be awarded it.

The ‘majors’ are the creme de la creme of the pipe band contests, the RSPBA accredited championships where the positions and points awarded at all five majors count towards the final tally of the year – which produces the coveted ‘Champion of Champions’ titles in each category.

This has for long been the focal point of the Cowal Championships, held at the end of the season at the annual Gathering in the last weekend of August.

The reason for this disastrous loss could not be clearer than in a statement the event’s Chair, Mr Cairns is quoted as making after the announcement of the loss: ‘We recognise that if we were bidding for our first major championship we wouldn’t have a hope in hell of getting it.’

This is the admission of the unforgiveable – the complacent knowing for some time that the event was coasting, was running on autopilot, without the care or the drive to improve standards, facilities and programmning.

It has been a case of ‘turf it out the way we’ve always done it. Tweak a bit here and there. It’ll do’. It won’t. It hasn’t – and now Dunoon is faced with the loss of its only real drawing card – the annual highland games which were once the biggest in the world.

Event Manager Malcolm Barclay cemented the insights into the management culture that has lost the games, in saying: ‘Many of the bands say that Cowal is no fun anymore. But they come here to win prestigious trophies – not for a fun day out.’

Well now they’ll not be doing that either. There’ll be neither fun nor serious contest for the bands; and there’ll be even less fun for the spectators.

The RSPBA has agreed to work with the event to help it stage an alternative pipe band competition, which will at least see Dunoon hear the pipes in and around the town on the day. But this will not again be the stellar end of year crowning of the champions of champions.

And the event has no one to blame but itself.

Any red-blooded event is always changing, striving to be better, to be surprising to be breathtaking, to provide the best in facilities, ease and comfort. The best events are always prepared to be radical in how they address emerging challenges – and in today’s world, nothing stays the same for long.

This decline has not been sudden nor has it been unnoticed. The bands have been asking for changes for years and have felt themselves largely ignored. Audiences have been complaining about facilities and about ‘sameness’. The event has annually dropped in appeal.

It has been allowed to remain like a large scale parish fete in a world where such events have long been highly professional in their management and presentation. The stooshie of last year over the dancing competition that did not in fact, as long claimed, send its winners to the national finals in Oban, revealed the depth of parochial complacency and unprofessionalism with which the Cowal Gathering had become diseased.

And now the best song of the Golden Goose is gone.

Some sort of bands event will be thrashed up for 2014 but the gold dust has been thrown away.

The question is whether the event is recoverable in the true sense – whether too much trust has been lost, whether the standards set by other events – and annually bettering themselves – is now a gap that cannot be closed?

This is a self inflicted and an avoidable  disaster. Dunoon deserved better – desperately needed better – than to be let down in this way.

The same is true of Argyll and Bute Council which has loyally supported the event in cash funding of £90,000 a pop and in assistance in kind. It has given this support because of the impact the event has had on the local economy – said to be close to £4 million a year, although the figures to justify this claim, if there are any, would be interesting to see.

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82 Responses to Cowal Games loss of major pipe band contest: Chair’s statement says it all

  1. Where will the Championships be held instead?
    Somewhere that is cheaper to get to and avoids less queuing for both vehicle and passenger ferries?

    Visitor numbers to the town on Cowal Games Saturday seemed to collapse following the introduction of the passenger only ferry service. The Observer reported people unhappy with the service, they had to leave early on Saturday and queue in the rain.

    The passenger service was off on the Monday – a near miss.

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    • Dissapointed for Dunoon in general, but worth pointing out that ‘Cowal’ were seen as greedy adding a day on (thursday) for extra dancing, at the expenese of the Argyllshire Gathering (Oban Games).

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    • Again the ferries seem to wrongly get the blame for everything.

      The 2012 games saw an increase in numbers both in stadium and the bands competing.

      You still have avoided the question asked re the FSB refusing to take part in the DGFAG meeting and the questionnaire. I heard that their rep said nothing at the meeting was this because the meeting was closed to any one with a different view. The truth must be hard to admit.

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      • More people may have competed in 2012, but now the Championships are leaving.
        On the Saturday the town was noticeably quieter.

        Are you seriously suggesting ferries are not a factor in both the above?
        How much does it cost to take a coach by ferry to the Games, too shocking to print perhaps?

        Regarding the FSB I have no idea what their views are or how they represent their members.
        What I am sure of is that businesses in Dunoon (apart from Western) don’t regard the loss of the town centre service as a positive step, it is more like straw for the camel’s back – a whole sack of it.

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        • Perhpas the town was quieter as there were more inside enjoying the event.

          Where is your proof that the town was quieter, this is just another of your unjustified opinions. Numbers in the stadium however were up, they were counted.

          You also can’t speak for every business in Dunoon. There were only 30 people at the DGFAG/FSB meeting, take away the DGFAG members and there were probably only 20 company reps.

          There is still a town centre ferry service, which despite the disruptions still delivers about 5,000 more sailings than the previous one.

          Everyone is now just waiting for you to blame the lack of a town centre to town centre vehicle service for North Korean missile testing and/or polar melt.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  2. It has been obvious for some time now that bands from Ireland and south of the border are coming to Cowal in fewer numbers.
    It is interesting to go through the competition category lists on the RSPBA website and compare the numbers of ex-Scotland bands competing in 2012 at the first major of the year [the Scottish] always held at Levengrove in Dunbartonshire – and the Cowal Gathering, the last major of the year, with the added attraction of the Champion of Champions titles and always held in Dunoon.
    There are very many more bands from Ireland, from England and from the military travelling to Levengrove than to Dunooon.
    This has nothing whatsoever to do with the ferry service – and opportunist attempts to blame Argyll Ferries will simply avoid paying scrutiny to where it needs to be paid.
    The problems have been known for many years and have been getting worse not better. They relate to the way the bands are treated and the way the event is [not] organised.
    For examples:
    In 2012, the bottom gate between the bands’ bus park and the tuning park was not even manned. This meant that the bands had to lug their kit a few additional hundreds of yards.
    At night, after the march down the street in Dunoon, when bands got back to their buses, some had to wait literally hours before being let out of the park – because the police didn’t want too many buses going up the Loch Eck road at the same time.
    The stewarding at the event is said to have become very ‘heavy handed’, with some bands refused entry to the march past because they turned up a few minutes late.
    It costs bands a great deal to get themselves – completely unsubsidised – to competitions and, as the star attraction at highland gatherings, they give such a lot to the events that they deserve to be treated well, with forethought, care and consideration.
    Hiring a bus for the day will cost between £500 and £800 pounds. When bands also travel in either direction across the Irish Sea to complete, that means both ferry and accommodation costs on top of bus hire.
    It is no wonder that Cowal had little more than a handful of ex-Scotland bands in its 2012 games.
    And what has led to their falling off is poor word-of-mouth for Dunoon.
    The Cowal Gathering has effectively had a franchise to mount this attractive top level piping event, a major crowd puller.
    It is inexplicable that this good fortune has been treated in so carelessly cavalier a manner that the event has now had to be taken away from it.
    The passenger ferry has nothing to do with the root cause of this disaster.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

    • What a lot of nonsense is being peddled about the event based on hearsay and what appears to be the in thing to put the boot in in a sensationalist manner by the press in all its forms. As a former competitor, and supporter of the gathering since the 60′s, I can comment from a position of fact and having a reasonable grasp and understanding of english my interpretation of the statements published by the gathering and the RSPBA I would say you are well off the mark.
      The Major status has gone as the stadium and surrounding area is limited in size and cannot provide the required close to venue parking, a single competing area for all grades and competitions and the pressure from other areas who would like to host a major and have the financial clout to bid above and beyond what Cowal and the Council can afford or justify.
      The gathering board have been anything but cavalier, they have bent over backwards to accommodate the RSPBA to the detriment of other events such as the track athletics and shinty competition.
      Your comments about heavy handed stewards not allowing bands to take part in the march past is interesting. I witnessed an incident where a few bands turned up when most of the bands were on the field and the RSPBA steward told the security people not to let them on, he then went over the main platform and asked and was told by the RSPBA people that due to the heavy rain they wanted to get the prize giving underway without further delay and suggested the bands could join the field from the side of the park. Some very drunk members of the band then got into a rammy with the stewards but it quickly quietened down when Strathclyde’s finest arrived. The few factual elements of your statement are outwith the control of the gathering such as traffic management and ferry services so it’s hardly right that hey should be criticised for these.
      The comment about fewer ex-Scotland bands is down to two factors, particularly for the higher grades. 1)The cost of travel (and accommodation for overseas) is high and budgets are limited so they have to be selective about which majors to compete in and the world’s would be top of their agenda. 2)It will attract those who have a chance of winning the champion of champions having picked up points at the other majors (quite a small cohort hence the low number of grade 1 entries. I for one hope that we will still see grade 1 competing for the oldest championship trophies in the world, I also hope that this will result in more relaxed approach from the bands and may encourage them to march up through the town with less at stake. It is easy to sit back and criticise any event, we should be getting behind the gathering to make sure it prospers. There will still be a pipe band championship, the World & Scottish highland dancing championship plus the brilliantly entertaining ceilidh tent and heavy athletics. As the games chairman says it will give an opportunity to introduce other events and attractions that were not possible under the current RSPBA constraints. Good luck to them

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  3. How much does it cost to take a coach on the ferry across to Dunoon and how does that compare with taking it across the Irish Sea?

    There has never been real competion on vehicle ferry services. Previously that was obscured by the town centre vehicle service, now the monopoly situation is laid bare. The local economy gets milked to the tune of £2M/annum.

    The present town centre passenger service then put the boot into foot passengers visiting the town on Games Saturday because it is not fit for the job.

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    • Ferryman – having asked twice how much it costs to take a coach on the ferry across to Dunoon, why don’t you ask McGills? They successfully operate a scheduled coach service between Glasgow and Dunoon eight times a day – but you know that, don’t you?

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

      • McGills do run a bus service, I doubt very much they will tell anybody how much they pay Western. You would also have to be very naive not to think that Western would encourage McGill’s at least until any possible return of a town centre vehicle service is firmly put to bed.

        The passenger bathtub service is unreliable and I believe McGills have announced an inflation busting increase in fares – yet more straw for the camel’s back.

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    • so you are stating you want a government subsided ferry company to go into competition with a private firm?

      also western ferries commercial charges are far less that the equivalent cal mac charges for vehicles of same length, so i dont see how they are milking anyone there

      are you saying there should be a limit on how much profit a private firm should make? considering the size of westerns fleet the number of staff employed, 2M per annum is not that excessive

      Question for you, How much do you think it should cost for a car day return? currently £21.50 from their website?

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      • If you think Western’s £2M profit is reasonable name me some companies that come close to making that profit on turnover.

        You say Western’s commercial rates are far less than CalMac, how do you know that (as they are not published), what do Western charge?

        You can take a family of 4 in a car return across the Channel for £38. On Western it would cost £42.70 to get a return across the Clyde!

        Car £21.50, Driver £7.50, Adult passenger £7.50, Children x 2 £5.60

        Do you think that is reasonable?

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        • If you buy your tickets in advance the whole return trip for a car, driver and two children is only £25.40.

          They have agents all over the place which, some are open from 6am to 10pm.

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        • Why don’t you just telephone Western and ask them,ferryman, instead of constantly carping on about the non-publication of their commercial rates.

          Your embittered comments pointed in that direction are becoming increasingly tedious.

          Their telephone number – available from their website – is 01369 704452.

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          • If you were a haulier, using the ferry on a regular basis, then I suppose you could expect a discounted rate for bulk purchase of tickets in advance. Presumably these rates would vary in accordance with the number bought. Publishing a set rate is, therefore, pretty meaningless.

            So in a manner of speaking there probably is an element of competition, amongst the users themselves.

            By the way, I took my own advice, amd made that phonecall – why don’t you, [Calmac] ferryman, do the same?

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          • Jim Williamson wrote “f you were a haulier, using the ferry on a regular basis, then I suppose you could expect a discounted rate for bulk purchase of tickets in advance.”

            Why would you expect that Jim if you had only one ferry to choose from?

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      • It was the other way round…..a private company went into competition with a public company,with the knowledge that there was a profit to be made if the public company had it’s hands tied.

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        • Not exactly. The public sector (the Government) tied the hands of a public company to allow a private company to become established.

          I don’t have a problem with that in fact I think it is a good idea, it keeps the public company on it toes.

          However that does not appear to have been the idea. Instead the idea was to kill of the public involvement and leave a monopoly private company. That is a seriously bad idea. By all means stimulate competing private companies, but creating a monopoly is a disaster.

          I think there are very few areas of Scotland, or indeed Europe where you could demonstrate such a large portion of the transport network being turned into private ownership.

          We tend to think of our ferries as being rather parochial, that is not the case ours is the major ferry crossing in Scotland and of significant size in European terms.

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          • Virtually all road passenger transport in Scotland is in the hands of private operators, the statutory transport authorities are there to fill in the bits they decide aren’t profitable to operate. Apart from a couple of relatively small council operations (Western Isles, Dumfries & Galloway) the only significant publicly owned entity is Lothian Buses.

            If you look in to it you will find considerable privatisation exercises being undertaken in several European countries.

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  4. a huge loss – like Wimbledon Cowal was the one to win – generations of pipers and dancers knew this but facilities for these talented and far travelled competitors have shockingly been inadequate for many years. Lottery? Only real investment could help now.

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    • As a dancer and past trophy winner at Cowal, I could not disagree more. When I danced back in the day the facilities were fine (Unless it rained). For todays dancers, who come from all over the world the facilities are first class. Covered dancing platforms, covered warmup areas, good changing facilities and the best atmosphere anywhere.
      As dancers we respect the tradition of Cowal and the very professional way the highland dancing championships are organised and run. You ask any competitive highland dancer what they aspire to do and that is to dance on the centre boards at Cowal. For any dancer who has, you then ask them what have been the highlights of their dancing career and almost every one will talk about Cowal. As for a dancer it is No1.
      Good luck Cowal and you will always have the support of the highland dancing community from around the world. Looking forward to August this year and beyond.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  5. i know exactly how much they charge as a relative works for a local company operating commercial vehicles to dunoon daily, it is not substantially less that cal mac but it is slightly cheaper than their equievelant rates

    ok using your car full then here is a few other comparisons

    Cal Mac Largs-Millport 10min crossing £30.50
    Cal Mac Wemyss Bay – Rothesay 35 min crossing £46.40
    Cal Mac Addrossan – Brodick 55min crossing £81.85

    so going by that cal macs rates for a vehicle and passanger service from gourock to dunoon would probably be approximately £38 being roughly 20mins so greater than millport but less than rothesay

    again what do you think should be a fair price?

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    • Neil Kay has at length gone into why Western Ferries are overpriced see
      http://www.brocher.com/Ferries/expensiveferry.htm

      I am no Professor of Economics but if I recall the figures published recently in the Observer and do some rough and ready back of the the fag packet calculations I recon the family of four should be able to make the return crossing in their car for £11 (instead of £42.70) whilst Western would still make what would be regarded as a decent profit.

      This would of course cause problems because traffic volumes would rise substantially, but that would be to the good of the town.

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      • The price of their prepaid tickets is only £25.40 for a family of four and even cheaper if you buy a book of ten.

        Also worth remembering that all Calmac fares are subsidised. Argyll ferries gets £5 per passenger per trip to provide their service. Perhaps if western got that the subsidy the price would drop for a family of four to £5.40.

        Now there is a goal!

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  6. Finally an informed voice in the wilderness Sporrandipity has got it absolutely right unlike Newsroom,to correct a couple of Newsrooms comments to suggest thst bands are completely unsubsidised verges on the ridiculous,why are Shotts House of Edgar so called because House of Edgar sponsors them,Field Marshal is sponsored by R.G Hardie and Premier Music also look at the bands competing in the European Championships when they were in Ulster,2 thirds of the bands were Irish due to the cost of ferries and accomodation,most of the bands playing at Cowal didn’t go to Ulster.Lastly bands which may have played in the first Major but have no chance of winning Champion of Champions or even be in the prize list at Cowal sometimes decide to save the expense and miss Cowal.What I would like to know is why do bands who know they probably will not be in the prize list at Cowal still come here if it is that bad.

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    • Sponsorship is a different matter from support which might be paid to bands in travel expenses as competitors by the events they enter. This does not happen.
      And sponsorship is an insecure business. Not many bands are sponsored and those that are can see that sponsorship vanish – as with Black Bottle Isle of Islay.

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  7. regardless ferryman, as far as i can seen at no point has any of the bodies concerned even mentioned that the ferries have had any part in the removal of the event, they have not commented on a reduction as you say in visitors it seems you are blaming all of dunoons problems on the ferries where i think most of dunoons issues are in fact closer to home

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    • Ferries are a factor, they may not be the main factor in any individual situation but they are likely to be significant for anything that involves people traveling to Dunoon.

      Take the comment from the former competitor above;
      “The comment about fewer ex-Scotland bands is down to two factors, particularly for the higher grades. 1)The cost of travel (and accommodation for overseas) is high and BUDGETS ARE LIMITED so they have to be selective about which majors to compete in and the world’s would be top of their agenda.”

      So if you were organising a competition and there were various issues with the current location AND the cost of getting here was high do you think you would not be influenced by the travel costs?

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      • Were CalMac offering substantial (or questionable) discounts for band coaches? Could that be why they’re no longer coming? A perk to the bands is no longer available?

        What’s the difference nowadays in cost between bringing a coach by road, and taking it over by ferry?

        The loss of CalMac from Dunoon still doesn’t alter the fact that attendance by major bands had, for many years, been reducing each and every year.

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        • So Peter Wade is saying band numbers were going up and you are saying band numbers were going down, which is it?

          One band site is saying buses were going the long way round to avoid the monopoly ferry – I think that makes my case.

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          • Some bands drove around even when there were two vehicle services.

            Band numbers were up last year and so was the gate at the stadium.

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          • We don’t have audience figures, Peter – but a plodding count at the RSPBA website shows that band numbers have decreased year on year through 2010, 2011 and 2012.

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          • Peter Wade wrote “Some bands drove around even when there were two vehicle services”.

            The band website explicitly mentioned the vehicle monoply. However you are probably right, no doubt some bands did drive round even with two services running. Have you asked yourself why though? Apart from cost, the answer is probably that they did not want to wait for ferries and thought it would be quicker.

            Since we now have only one service that situation is of course dramatically worse and yet anothor factor to put bands off. Hence disgruntled comments about the police holding buses back to prevent convoys around Loch Eck.

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  8. Ferryman you are banging your head against a brick wall with Steven by the looks of it,he seems to forget that the only subsidy Cal/Mac got was for foot passengers which Western don’t want and I doubt could cater for in the numbers Cal/Mac used to.

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  9. sporrandipity has hit the nail on the head .all the critics should now get behind the cowal gathering .its to easy to critisise but remember alot of good will and volunteers are need for any event and i wonder how many of the critics do help or would be willing to get involved?

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  10. What is going on here? A subsidy of £5 per person per trip? Surely that is not what the subsidy really is? I am not a business person, but If that is the true figure, is this really any kind of realistic value for anyone? A bus transfer service may not be the best, but at what cost would that be compared to the passenger ferries? And how can Cal-Mac fare comparisons be made with Western’s fares, when the Cal-Mac fares are all subsidised to begin with. If Western (best fare) charges are what are stated here, is it no wonder that any Government (there have been numerous since Western started) are doubting pouring even more £millions into new ships, when they will have to pay to get them built, plus they will still be paying £5 per headper trip in subsidy. Where is there even a scattering of logic amongst that?

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    • It is completely illogical for the Government to pay more subsidy than it needs to. CalMac actually demonstrated that by operating more sailings they attracted more traffic and reduced subsidy – but they were told to stop it by the Government.

      Now of course the plan seems to be to effectively subsidise Western despite its massive profit margin.
      The Cowal Chairman has been quoted as saying “could we maybe access sponsorship to help with travel costs AND FERRY FARES”.

      In other words ferry fares were and are putting bands off and people are thinking about trying to raise money to give to bands to give to Western!

      I can hear milk splashing in pails.

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      • Western have been sponsoring the Games for many years. That’s something that CalMac never did. Western have also sponsored the local pipe band as well. Again, what help has CalMac ever given them? None.

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        • You still believe in Santa Claus don’t you – go on admit it.

          That is called skillful Public Relations and Marketing. Windfarms do the same making contributions to communities. They don’t do it because they are kind generous people. They do it because they are hard nosed businessmen and it helps increase their profits and reduce objections to their activities.

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          • So THAT’S why CalMac sponsor the Mod? So nobody will object to the monopoly that they enjoy to all west coast islands! Jeez – I never thought of that! And it increases their profits too! Wow!

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    • The Argyll Ferries subsidy, or “grant”, was £2.7 million according to their published accounts for 2011-12. That’s about twice what was apparently reported in a parliamentary answer. (MacBrayne website for annual accounts)

      There seem to be wide discrepancies in the stated number of carryings too, with figures ranging from well under 100,000 to over 300,000.

      I’ve had to edit this because the figures I’ve uncovered are so far apart.

      Cost per passenger is obviously grant divided by carryings, but one unreliable number divided by another unreliable number equals an even more unreliable number.

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  11. Peter – Western and Clyde Marine did tender for the service. Argyll Ferries did not tender as Argyll Ferries, but still won the contract (as my memory recalls) It was Cal-Mac, or David MacBrayne, or Cowal Ferries who actually tendered, but what is a name between friends?

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  12. How many pipe bands taking part in the 2012 championship were able to drive direct to Dunoon and how many bands needed to use the ferry across to Dunoon.
    It would be interesting to find out the actual numbers.

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  13. Surely all the coaches were able to drive direct to Dunoon.
    To be honest I’m surprised they don’t all come via Loch Eck, I’ve been told (unsubstantiated) that a coach on the boat is in the region of £500 return

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    • It’s under a two hour dive from the Erskine Bridge and only about 4 gallons of fuel for a bus via the A82/A83 so what is the problem?

      Ferryman’s comments about “the police holding buses back to prevent convoys around Loch Eck” are absolute rubbish. I have spoke with the local police and they have confirmed that this never happened. Time that folk were honest with their comments.

      Also time that folk in Dunoon / Cowal were happy with the great service that they receive from Western Ferries. One service is more than enough for them.

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      • Why do we bother with a ferry at all then obviously it is completely unnecessary ?

        As I have said before the service from Western, though grossly overpriced though lack of competition, is very good – but then so it should be at that cost.

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        • Rubbish – the Western 10 journey ticket is great value for money. Calmac’s Rothesay car+driver 10 journey ticket is twice the price. And that’s subsidised by who know’s how much – plenty, and we’ll never know the gobsmacking extent of it until they’re forced to publish a standalone set of accounts for each route, just as they must for Dunoon-Gourock.

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    • Why is it unsubstantiated, why is it not published?
      Isn’t there a forargyll article saying the cost of a coach is £800 now you are suggesting the ferry cost alone adds £500, does that include the band or just the bus?

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          • Surely £100 cannot be right, don’t they charge that much for vans?

            Is that a McGill’s coach or anybody’s coach and does it include the passengers?

            Do coaches really vary much in size?

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          • Well you get large coaches and small coaches.

            Again why don’t you contact them and ask.

            Then when you find out the truth please tell us all. That is of course unless you discover that the truth does not fit with your arguements…..

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  14. Ferryman -” I think there are very few areas of Scotland, or indeed Europe where you could demonstrate such a large portion of the transport network being turned into private ownership.”
    Please correct me if I am wrong, but are Scotrail not a private company, subsidised by the Government? I also cannot think of any publicly owned large bus companies that are still on the go. Remember the days when a lot of cities ran their own bus companies and services?

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  15. Getting confused now! Some say Argyll Ferries subsidy is £5 per trip, and somebody says it is £45? Would the figure not depend on how many passengers actually used the service each year, and also how many replacement bus services/tickets used on Western ?

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      • The subsidy is £1.75m and the latest passenger numbers were just over 350k.

        The other way of looking at it is subsidy per sailing which is £100.

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    • Off course you could solve the problem by putting in a reliable vehicle ferry service with an unrestricted timetable – what the town centre service supporters have been advocating all along.

      Western clearly show that vehicle ferries can make huge profits if they don’t operate to restricted timetables with stupid ticketing arrangements. It is really rather difficult to argue sensibly that vehicle services cannot make a profit when Western so clearly demonstrate a killing can be made.

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      • The argument about Western’s profits has little to do with the demise of the major pipe bands visiting Cowal Games.

        But while you;re on about it, would it be fair to suggest that their operating costs are much lower than many other ferry companies quite simply because they have a very efficient, streamlined management, that doens’t incur massive overheads like CalMac (your employers?) do?

        And with the profits, they are able to put money into the bank, and fund the building of new piers, linkspans, and boats, without any help from the taxpayer. Compare, too, their policy for buying ship – the two new ones are going to cost about £4m each, CalMac’s latest (and smaller) boats will be almost three times as expensive. Why? They’re doing similar jobs, over similar lengths of crossing.

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        • On top of the purchase price of the new Calmac/CMAL ferries, there’s a cost we’ll never be able to compare with Western’s and that’s the companies’ internal charges for procurement administration of the new builds and technical input. That’s something which I guess will be kept to an absolute minimum by, as you said, Western’s streamlined management and low overheads philospophy.

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        • CalMac vessels, other than the really small ones, have crew accommodation which makes the vessels larger; crew living onboard requires a ship’s cook in addition to any passenger catering provision(IIRC the manning levels require the ship’s cook only feeds the crew), which adds more crew.

          There could be scope to manage the shorter crossings with dayworking crews like Western use, but this reduces operational flexibility, making it difficult to shuffle vessels around onto longer routes to cover for breakdowns and refits.

          The latest boats are very expensive because they have diesel-electric propulsion with huge battery banks; if they were conventionally powered they would be about half the price.

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          • They had accommodation, although as a seafarer myself I might have gone on strike if I was obliged to use it very often; it’s below the waterline and is a little cramped. I don’t think it was intended for regular use, just for relief and positioning voyages.

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  16. ScotRail are owned by First Group.
    The correct name of Scotrail is FirstScotRail.
    Prior to bus deregulation the main cities in Scotland had their own bus services which were subsidised by the rates. Lothian Regional Coucil used to own Lothian buses who provided an excellent bus service in Edinburgh in the late 1970′s.
    Lothian buses is the only municpal bus company in Scotland.
    City of Edinburgh Council own 91.01% with the remainder being owned by East Lothian and Midlothian Councils.

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    • FirstGroup won the bid to operate the government’s Scotrail franchise for a set period of years, and no more own it than National Express – the previous operator – did.
      Wasn’t the current Holyrood government rather sensitive to this common misapprehension, and hence their move to have the trains rebranded with a national livery in place of that of FirstGroup?

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  17. I found my old Observer and have dusted of the fag packet;

    Western made a profit of £1.9M on a turnover of £6.98M or 27%. Can anybody name a few other companies returning that profit? Surely Western are not profiteering!

    Neil Kay’s website
    http://www.brocher.com/Ferries/expensiveferry.htm
    suggests a normal figure would be 5-6.5%

    However lets be generous and use 8%.
    That means Western’s profits are 3.4 times over what appears to be “normal”.

    The young family of 4 who, at published prices, would pay £42.70 for a return in their car should therefore perhaps be paying £12.56. Meanwhile my book of 10 Car and Driver tickets at £73.00 should perhaps be costing £21.47. All the while Western would still be making a generous profit.

    If anybody disagrees then please provide corrected figures I may well be making mistakes.

    What would the consequences of these new fares be?
    I would suggest;

    1. Increased visitors to Dunoon.
    2. More people choosing to commute from here.
    3. More bands deciding to attend Cowal Games.
    4. Much healthier local businesses.
    5. More businesses choosing to locate here.
    6. Better local employment prospects.
    7. A healthier property market.
    8. Better security for schools, the hospital, Struan Lodge.

    All in all, given its close proximity to Glasgow, I think Dunoon would find itself to be quite a thriving place.

    Am I wrong somewhere, please point it it out and give some numbers.

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  18. @ferrymen – yes, your fare structure is spot on! Can I suggest that the local business group put your idea to Western at their next meeting. Wait was that the meeting that Western and Argyll Ferries were refused entry to, or was that a different one? That is a shame!

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  19. @Ferryman – another solution would be to get a company to use your idea, and totally forget about Government subsidies and build their own ships (as Western have done) both town centre terminals are publicly owned, so anyone can pay the pier dues and use them. They would soon build up regular users (and as many keep saying, there is plenty traffic for two services) and using your figures, they would make ample profits to pay off the costs of their new ships etc. Simple! Why has nobody done this before?

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    • Dunoon Lad can you explain your, Jim Williamson, and Peter Wade’s infatuation with Western Ferries?

      Never before have I seen such dedication to a company, it is truly remarkable.

      People do of course have brand loyalty but such undying devotion I have to say I have never encountered before.

      However lets not detract from the point, why should the ferry fares not be reduced to say 1/4 of what they are now – letting Western of course still make a fair profit?

      Do you argue with the numbers. I am happy to admit my figures are wrong. How do you calculate things?

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      • I would not say that I was “infatuated” with Western, at least no more sore than [CalMac] ‘ferryman’ is obsessed with the profit that they appear to be capable of making. Like DunoonLad I’m just a contented traveller who feels that they do provide a good service, reasonable value for money, and (unlike the car ferry service now defunct) have cheerful staff always willing to oblige. And yes, on occasion, if the need arose I did travel from Gourock to Dunoon on the Calmac car ferry.

        On the matter of the fares that Western charge, it is recorded that once upon a time, the two companies used to discuss the fares and agree on their respective tariffs. For much of the time that they were in competition the fares were, by and large, roughly the same.

        Now if that was the case, and Western was making such a profit, does that not say something about the charges being imposed by Calmac? Had they been allowed to reduce theirs to the level that Western really needed to charge (about a third of what both companies actually did), then just how much more subsidy would Calmac have needed? Or did Calmac insist that Western artificially inflated theirs to conceal something? Presumably we shall never find out as most of the discussions were verbal, just as most are now between both companies and the various local and national authorities.

        I still don’t understand why nobody else has come along and brought in boats of their own since the opportunity to make so much money appears to be there – at least according to [Calmac] ‘ferryman’ and his pals! There wouldn’t need to be a tender as there would be no subsidy required either.

        None of this has any bearing on the decision made by the PBA, which has been on the cards for several years, and long before Calmac stopped running to Dunoon.

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  20. @Ferryman – yes, I use Western Ferries. I think they give a good service. I am not a commuter. Yes, I would like to pay what you suggest, but when you look at other public transport e.g. Trains, and the rises users have to stump up, I cannot see that ever happening. I was a commuter prior to Western, and had to endure last winter sailings leaving Gourock at 6.10 pm, so yes, I think a 20 minute service is good. The issue of passengers getting to and from the trains must be resolved. On the other hand, until this forum started, and Western become the sole vehicle service, I had never came across ANYONE who was so against Western Ferries as a company as you seem to be! If the Government can’t deliver a proper town centre service, it’s hardly Western’s fault, is it? As I said previously, there is nothing stopping a company coming in and starting their own town centre commercial service, or is there? All the other communities that rely on ferry transport would also like much cheaper fares than they are already paying. Dunoon doesn’t have a monopoly on that issue.

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  21. There are far more bands competing at Cowal now than there were 20-30 years ago.As someone who is a band steward for the Gathering on the Saturday,2 years ago from the time the first band went on to the park till the last Grade 1 came off there was only 10 minutes when there wasn’t a band competing on the main field,I know because I had to have my lunch break in those 10 minutes.

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  22. I think Neil makes a very fair point .I attended the last two Cowal Gatherings and all five majors last year and in my sight of eye opinion by way of attendance Cowal came second behind the World Championships in Glasgow and the place was full of Bands . I also believe in fairness its facilities came third out of five behind the Worlds in Glasgow and the Scottish in Dunbarton.On the field it had a lot more to offer than Stormont and Annan for visitors.For a European Championship the site at Stormont offered very little.Perhaps Dunoon is a victim of the ruling bodies desire to move the majors around .This year the Europeans are going to be in Forres and the British in Bathgate .If I have one criticism of Cowal its the blind eye by the authorities to extreme intoxication .In the last two years the number of drunken people in the vicinity around the stadium as early as lunchtime was sad and unacceptable.Apart from that the Cowal Games have a lot to be proud of .

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