CalMac has issued a press release highlighting the fact that it has commissioned a report into the next 25 years of Argyll and Clyde’s marine economy.
CalMac is a state owned ferry operator which delivers a regime of ferry services laid down by its paymaster, Transport Scotland, in a non-commercially driven fleet it is obliged to lease from the state owned asset holder, Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd [CMAL].
That is CalMac’s core responsibility – to deliver the dictated services and to do it well.
Economic development is the overall responsibility of the Scottish Government; locally, of Argyll and Bute Council; and, in terms of state subsidy to grease the wheels, Scottish Enterprise and, for the west coast, Highlands and Islands Enterprise.
Where CalMac may have ‘surplus’ funds – a concept that does not quite square with the need for substantial public subsidy for the Clyde and Hebridean ferries network – it is arguable that those funds are public money and ought to be used responsibly in the public interest.
It is not in the public interest to increase duplication of effort, particularly in an area like economic development that is in no way the responsibility or even the direct interest of CalMac, a company that is not expected to have and, to the best of our knowledge, does not have in-house economic development expertise.
Lacking such internal resources at the required level, how on earth would CalMac tell the difference between an acutely informed and perceptive report on this subject – and a load of cosmeticised ordure?
Moreover, what would CalMac do with the results of such a report? Change the ferry services schedule to serve and support better the areas expected to show economic growth – in a report they are hardly equipped to evaluate? That is the responsibility of Transport Scotland, who tender the ferry services schedule they expect to have delivered by the winning bidder according to their own research and supposed wisdom [or according to political expediency] .
This exercise is a needless waste of public money – while ferry services themselves remain erratically focused. An example of this is the continuation of the white elephant that is the part time dot-and-carry-one service between Ardrossan and Campbeltown [with a weekly stranding on Arran], run on utterly unable timetables. Ironically, the unable timetable in question is so because it has not even been designed to contribute to the economic development of Campbeltown and Kintyre but for the lifestyle enhancement of the scant residents of Campbeltown and its immediate hinterland.
Commissioning a report on the Argyll and Clyde marine economy, even if this caper were within CalMac’s remit, would be guilty of ignoring the economic needs of the Small Isles, of Skye, of Lochaber, of Sutherland and of the Western Isles – all of which have equally important interests in the west coast ferry network CalMac exists to deliver.
This stunt would appear to be born of one of two driving motivations:
- advance – and inappropriate – justification of a coming post-election announcement that CalMac has been awarded the Clyde and Ferry Services Network contract by posing as the high level agency of government strategic economic planning it is not;
- a panic-driven effort to make a possible award of this contract to CalMac’s sole opponent ,Serco Caledonian, seem like blind prejudice in the light of this wide ranging sweep of commitment from CalMac. [This interpretation is improbable in the context of actions taken which have appeared to indicate something of a stitch up tender.]
Either way, the company has taken leave of its senses in an extra-territorial enterprise that seems like folie de grandeur.
For those interested, the report itself is available online here.
We have not yet read it since the merit or otherwise of its content is irrelevant to the issue we are raising – the inappropriateness of CalMac as its commissioning agent.
For Argyll has asked CalMac for an narrative on its thinking in taking on this exercise and, in the interests of fairness, will publish what we get without commentary.