CalMac stepping outside remit in duplicating other agencies’ responsibilities for economic development strategy?

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.

Calmac_Report Aquaculture, Tourism & Recreation and Marine Traffic within the Clyde and Argyll Marine Regions 2016

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.

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Related Articles & Comments

  • I can think of a one-line economic development strategy – abolish fares.
    Encourage the government to commission the modelling of the ‘what if?’scenario to see what effect, over time, free transport across the ‘gaps’ in this country’s road network would have on economic and social development – to what degree it would act as a national ‘tonic’, reduce the excess costs of island life, increase tax revenue and reduce public expenditure.
    Maybe not easy to estimate – for example construction costs would be significantly reduced but property prices might significantly rise.
    Who knows, maybe the financial benefits would outweigh the increased cost of ferry subsidy – but one thing’s for sure, it would help create ‘one nation’ whether that’s just Scotland or all Britain.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2

    Robert Wakeham April 29, 2016 9:43 pm Reply
    • If we can address our dysfunctional planning system perhaps property prices could be kept stable, or even reduced somewhat; for all the huffery coming out of the parties in the run-up to the election, not one of them are interested in anything other than sticking plaster hand-outs to first time buyers, subsidising developers and generally perpetuating the absurd price escalator we’ve been on for 30 years. An honest appraisal of LVT options would be nice, but you can’t have everything.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3

      db April 30, 2016 1:27 am Reply
    • That was the purpose of the Road Equivalent Tariff ( RET ) when it was iniated in Norway in the 60s ( but ignored here for nearly 50 years )
      The very first paragraph of the legislation stated that it ought to cost no more to travel to use a ferry than to travel the same distance on land. There were questions of definition, such as between total costs and marginal costs, and whether the assistance should also apply to tourists ( who are supposed to be putting money into the economy rather than taking it out ) A standard table of fares based on distance was imposed on all routes from the start, and it was recognised that such potentially open-ended subsidy of operators required very close attention to their claimed costs, one result of the latter being that they can only claim for deficit support up to the cost level of best practice. RET certainly promoted economic development on Norway’s fringes, to an extent unknown in Scotland. Emphasis has now shifted to a policy of fixed links where at all possible – and it’s amazing what is possible when you try. The greater Bergen area alone now has more major bridge mileage than the whole of Scotland ( and they’re devils for tunnelling too )
      Whether universal free ferries would work is debatable, particularly for commercial traffic, though the existing system of pensioners bus passes ought to be extended to trains and ferries.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

      Arthur Blue May 5, 2016 11:29 am Reply
  • So just to be clear, you see a document has been produced. Do you read it? Of course not – it might after all contain some facts. But you do say the people responsible have lost their senses. Interesting approach.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

    Eh? April 30, 2016 6:41 am Reply
  • The full report is a good report detailing what needs to be done to remain competitive not really as a ferry company but as a region.

    Cal-Mac should be given credit for marketing Argyll and the Isles properly apart from that is the recent video disaterous that has thankfully died a death days after its release.

    But credit where credit is due, they have spent a lot of effort driving visitors to the area, far more effort than anyone else has and with a much greater impact.

    Should we not be saying how lucky the region has been to have this Goverment business promoting the area on behalf and to the Benifit of all the businesses in the area?

    Did they have to do it? Yes they did for the reason that they can and must keep the economic focus on the west or the service starts to be reduced because people go else where.

    Golden opportunity right now with RTE to boost the tourism foot fall and they are doing the best job of it right now.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

    Iain Hurrel April 30, 2016 7:23 am Reply
  • Would you expect anything less from these eejits?
    You’re paid to deliver a lifeline ferry service, not be a quasi-economic development body, a faux tourism development body, a proxy funding channel for the island economy or master of all you serve (although as the saying goes, the west coast belongs to MacBrayne and this culture is obviously still evident).
    Is it any wonder the subsidy is so huge when there is such a lack of clarity around what exactly the contract holder for the West Coast ferries ‘franchise’ is being paid to do. Will the next contract also have a large amount of fat in it to fund these extra curricular activities?

    It should be embarrassing for A&B council that they are so poor at these basic functions of a local authority that Calmac feels forced to do it for them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 10

    Jerry McIver April 30, 2016 9:46 am Reply
    • I just thought of the old hymn, but you’ve already touched on it,
      The earth belongs unto the Lord
      and all that it contains,
      except the Outer Hebrides
      they belong to Dave MacBrayne.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 3

      Murdoch MacKenzie April 30, 2016 11:08 am Reply
      • The Inner Hebrides too Murdoch.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 3

        Keitho April 30, 2016 6:35 pm Reply
  • The potential redundancy of this report is that in a matter of weeks, after the Holyrood elections, if Scottish Govt awards the CHFS tender to Serco, then Caledonian MacBrayne(CalMac) will be ‘out of busness’.

    Can we assume,therefore,Scottish Govt gave the nod to Calmac, that, irrespective of it being a competitive tender, Calmac would win the tender?

    The irrelevancy of Calmac’s report is encapsulated by this statement in its Executive Summary :

    ‘As a stakeholder in the marine environment, Caledonian MacBrayne is aware of the importance of
    their role to achieving the Scottish Government’s Vision’.

    But Caledonian MacBrayne is owned by Scottish Govt. This report offers no more than a superficial regional extrapolation of Scottish Govt’s National Marine Plan ,which Scottish Government’s own consultative committee deemed “unfit for purpose”

    And some major flaws ?

    (1) No one seems to seem to have told its researchers that coal imports via Hunterston have stopped.
    (2) Scotland’s ports have no potential to exploit commercial development ,if the Arctic’s Northern Sea Route and the North West Passage open to commercial traffic

    Calmac would serve WC Scotland better if it ensured Scottish Government delivered its 2013 Ferry Plan. So far that is not the case.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 7

    Scotnat April 30, 2016 9:55 am Reply
    • I’m only going to disagree over one thing in your post,
      “(2) Scotland’s ports have no potential to exploit commercial development ,if the Arctic’s Northern Sea Route and the North West Passage open to commercial traffic”.
      These are big IF’s but it seems to me that if they were to come to pass, few other ports in the world would have the potential that Scapa Flow has.
      A free dynamic Scotland could convert Hunterston, back into an iron ore terminal and build the steelworks that was always supposed to be built there. Added to that we could make Greenock Great Harbour into a massive building dock to build our own superships that would take all of Europe’s, and the Atlantic rim’s, trade over the Artic routes.
      That’s what we would have done before work and trade became no-go areas in the new Thatcherite Kingdom that so many think will last forever and that gives so many people nose-bleeds even thinking about doing a days work.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

      Murdoch MacKenzie April 30, 2016 11:36 am Reply
      • Murdoch, your proposal of Scapa Flow being used as a port ignores the most fundamental issue of ease, speed and cost of distribution and export.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 5

        Richard April 30, 2016 12:07 pm Reply
        • Transhipment from massive vessels at deep ports like Scapa will always be cheaper than the new twin engine ships being developed to get into the shallow European ports.
          There is a lot of design work to be done to get a winning vessel design and better transhipment systems, that will beat the others, that’s how the sea trade has always worked and Scotland used to be leaders in this field. We may have lost our edge but we still have the people with the knowledge and experience to make this happen again.
          You establish an efficient trade route and it brings a lot of investment that can use it.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

          Murdoch MacKenzie April 30, 2016 1:12 pm Reply
  • Calmac do a great service for all of the communities they serve.
    There will always be challenges be it weather, finance or stock.
    Their safety record is first class.
    Long live Calmac

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

    Keitho April 30, 2016 10:23 am Reply
  • There are two brand new ferries would be built on the clyde. the new vessels will be identical sister-ships: one Will Serve Arran, Then The other will serve the Uig triangle. This would allow for the replacement of MV Isle of Arran, Allowing MV Caledonian isles become the second Arran/Campbeltown vessel.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

    Scott Smith April 30, 2016 1:48 pm Reply
  • the new ferry in 2018 is seve the Uig-Lochmaddy/Tarbert replacement MV Hebrides. MV Hebrides should be either Spare or a second oban vessel

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

    Scott Smith April 30, 2016 1:55 pm Reply
  • Keep Cal Mac then apply RET to freight traffic – this would be the biggest boost to island economies reducing living costs for all – even those who are now to old/frail to travel and enjoy the vehicle/ passenger RET. Everyone needs to buy food etc. and would it be so hard to go back to visitors paying a reasonable fare? as on average they make the island journeys only once or twice per year and give RET proper to only those who are permanently resident on the islands as the ADS card does for air travel. Speaking to annual visitors I am told that they pay far less now than 20 years ago and would not baulk at paying a more realistic fare. Surely to support island communities and keep our young families in their home islands, it is more important to keep residents’living costs down despite the importance of tourism to the economy. I reckon the tourists will come anyway – no where more beautiful the Scotland’s west coast.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    sam May 5, 2016 7:08 pm Reply

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