This was the ferry to Islay last night, 12th August 2015.
The man who took the photograph was told that the vessel was fully booked and that he was eighth on the standby list in the event of cancellations or no-shows.
He decided to take his chances, turn up and see. When he arrived, the picture was very different from the one he was expecting.
When he got on the boat this was what it meant to be eighth standby.
Others on the standby list did not apparently take the same ‘chance’ – there was room for them and a lot more, as these photographs show.
The – by then amused – traveller showed them to his hotelier when he arrived.
The hotelier was not amused. Very unusally for the very popular and perenially busy Islay, he had five empty rooms last night.
He thinks the experience of his guest may explain why – and has sent the photographs to the CEO of CalMac Ferries, asking for an explanation.
In the contest for the Clyde and Hebridean Ferry Services [CHFS] contract between the Scottish Government-owned ferry operator, CalMac Ferries Limited and the private sector Serco Caledonian [with neither having their operational troubles to seek of late], the dirty tricks that have been going on from the Scottish Government and CalMac have been genuinely shocking and may well end up in court.
Governments do what governments always do but we have been backfooted by the apparent interest on CalMac’s part to play the same game.
In this context, one has to wonder why so glaring a booking error has taken place.
Might it have been a innocent fault thrown up in possible beta trials of the electronic booking system CalMac has been working to introduce, probably in advance of the final bids in the tender?
Or might it be that a positive distortion of carrying figures has some strange impact on the tender process that might advantage the sitting operator and disadvantage the challenger?
Or was it an almighty cock up that cost Islay?
The contest for the CHFS contract is not the one between the downtrodden and abused government slave-company and the freebooting privateer we had fondly imagined it to be.
It is clearly one of dog eat dog, with ‘big dog’ being what is clearly – and indeed openly – concerted strategic action between the government and the company it owns.
This dogfight is leaving the paying passengers and the dependent island businesses with bites on both legs – and has been since June when the RMT strike farce damaged the island economies at a key time and, in the agreements then suddenly made, ended up damaging Serco’s ability to compete for this contract – clearly no coincidence.
Roy Pedersen’s recent book – Western Ferries: Taking on Giants – on the successful ferry service with the strongest business model in Scotland’s ferries sector, showed that company’s Lazarus-like resurrection from its deliberate destruction by the CalMac of the latter part of the 1900s, abetted by its owner, then, pre-devolution, the UK government through the Scottish Office.
We had been of the view that the miscreant then was not the ferry operator who had to do as it was instructed by its then direct state owner – but was that state owner.
We have seen differently in the light of the hard-eyed manoeuvres in this tender contest, that there are no innocents in this game and that the real and enduring victims are the users of the west coast ferries and the taxpayers.
They – all of us – are inextricably bound into an ad hoc service provision regime with wildly expensive vanity procurements and staffing agreements with trades unions made willy nilly for political favour with ‘other people’s money’ – ours.
That full-empty boat to Islay last night will need some explanation – but is no more than a footnote to a much bigger story.