The David MacBrayne Group Ltd, the main ferry operator serving the Clyde and Hebridean routes, today [14th October 2013] published its latest annual report and accounts.
Group Chair, David McGibbon says: ‘This has been yet another successful year for the company that has seen us pick up several industry awards for customer excellence. Our core business of providing ferry services in the Clyde and on the west coast remains profitable and reliability, punctuality and customer satisfaction on all our routes remains high.’
However, inclement weather last summer impacted on total passenger numbers and revenue, profits and staff numbers were all down on 2011/12 figure after the Group failed to win the re-tender of the Northlink Ferry contract to service the Orkney and Shetland routes last year.
The report highlighted:
- Vehicle numbers carried increased from 1.1 to 1.2 million
- Profits down from £3.6 million to £2.1 million.
- Revenue down from £201 million to £157 million.
- Grants received from the Scottish Government down from £121.8 million to £87 million
- Workforce down from 1667 to 1374.
- Passenger numbers down from 5.2 million to 4.8 million
Mr McGibbon says: ‘I’m looking forward to the coming year that will see several new initiatives coming on stream. Work is progressing to improve our customers’ experience of our services including the revamp of our ticketing and online booking system and introduction of wi-fi across the fleet.
‘Our rolling programme of boat replacement also continues with the MV Loch Seaforth on schedule for the Ullapool-Stornoway route next year and our two new innovative diesel hybrids MV Hallaig and MV Lochinvar also due to enter service in the coming months.’
The annual report can be viewed online here.
We are still reading the detail of the full report but some matters stand out for early comment.
The company’s paragraph on the Scottish Government commissioned feasibility study on a vehicle and passenger service for the Gourock-Dunoon route makes interesting reading in what it does not feel the need to say. It is masterly in its avoidance of comment of any kind.
The company is clearly focused on energetically defending its position as operator of the contract for the Clyde and Hebridean ferry services. In a clear signal of its stance, it links this determination to the impact of its failure to retain its contract for the Northern Isles ferry services.
The underplayed but substantial delay in the coming into service of the two new hybrid ferries is clearly an issue. These were commissioned by state owned Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited [CMAL] for the Skye-Raasay route and the Tarbert-Portavadie route. Their progress compares very poorly with the performance of private sector competition.
The two new ferries commissioned much later than the hybrids by private sector operator, Western Ferries, from Cammell Laird in Birkenhead [with Ferguson's yard on the Clyde ironically too busy with the two new ferries for CMAL] are both now at Dunoon. One is already in service and the other due to enter service this week. Both cost much less than the hybrids. Both were completed on budget. Neither has encountered any technical difficulties – with the hybrids having given rise to several issues, operational and technical, some as yet unresolved.
None of this is anything to do with the David MacBrayne Group or with CalMac.
This raises the issue of the extent to which, as a Scottish Government owned company, David MacBrayne Ltd and its subsidiary CalMac, are not free to exercise choice and operate with financial efficiency in the open market – to the detriment of the services they are able to offer.
They seem to have to accept the boats given to them for specific routes by the asset holder, CMAL which, in the case of the hybrids and the delay in their coming into service, could be argued to be detrimental to the public interest.
Any normal ferry company which did not own its own boats, as CalMac does not, would make an independent choice of ferry from what was available to lease on the market. Such a company, with commercial performance to the fore, would have been unlikely to take the arguably uncommercial venture into using the hybrid boats.
If these boats, when they come into service at an as yet unspecified time, prove less then fully reliable in operation, it is CalMac , as the service provider and not CMAL that will receive the front end flak from ferry users. That would be misdirected and unfair.
The division of assets from operations has come about as the Scottish Government’s attempt to comply with EU law while protecting the crucial provision of ferry services to the islands.