Earlier I wrote about the upcoming tender for the ferry routes currently operated by Calmac, the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services. The situation still is that both Calmac and Serco are in the race to win this £1bn contract. The fact that Serco has a chance to win this contract was a reason for the RMT union to hold industrial action which resulted in strikes around the start of the summer holidays.
Having a tender for such a big and important contract offers an opportunity for Islay, and other islands as well, to talk to representatives of the government and other parties involved about current and future services. Currently the MV Finlaggan is sailing the Kennacraig - Islay route most of the year together with the Hebridean Isles and the Isle of Arran as relief. The latter two are among the oldest ferries in the network and breakdowns are becoming more common, resulting in disruptions and cancellations.
To express the concern of many on Islay the islands’ Ferry Committee representing transport users had a substantial meeting with the Islands and Transport Minister, Derek Mackay MSP. The report below was written by Catriona Bell in which you can read the details of that meeting with the minister:
Islay and Jura need to have the ‘Finlaggan’ all year round
Islay and Jura need to have the ‘Finlaggan’ or a ferry with the same vehicle capacity, on the Islay route all year round.” That message given by the Islay and Jura Ferry Committee to Derek MacKay, Minister for Transport and the Islands was coupled with local concerns about the increasing number of breakdowns suffered by the older ferries, the ‘Hebridean Isles’ and relief vessel ’Isle of Arran’. Continue reading....
At their request, the Committee met Mr Mackay during his visit to the island on 4 August. Following on from discussions in July by video conference, they said that the ‘Finlaggan’ has already proved that it can clear the backlog by fitting in an extra sailing in the event of a ‘Hebridean Isles’ ferry breakdown. Leaving the island with the two smaller boats, the Heb Isles and the Arran, in winters when cancellations due to stormy weather can add to technical disruptions is a recipe for chaos.
The Committee reiterated the need for a second boat similar to the ‘Finlaggan’ to be built for Islay. The Minister replied that when the two boats which are in planning for the northern routes come into operation, the situation would ease. The Committee made it clear that that was no answer, as according to CalMac the only ferries, apart from the ‘Finlaggan’, which fit Islay piers are the three oldest boats in the fleet (Hebridean Isles 30yr, Isle of Arran 31yr, Lord of the Isles 26yr).
Members feared that the projected growth in island whisky production and two major tourism projects in progress could be threatened, telling the Minister; “Islay can’t afford to see lack of ferry capacity put a damper on any development that will give people jobs, and reverse the downward trend in population”
The Committee’s efforts to keep Islay high on the Transport Minister’s agenda has been rewarded with a seat for a member on the Independent Procurement Panel, set up to provide assurance of ‘fairness, transparency and balance’ in the tender process for operation of the Clyde and Hebridean Ferry service from 2016. An invitation has also come from CalMac for a group to go to Gourock to work with the team responsible for tickets and reservations, on resolving inadequacies in the booking system which have been highlighted by the Committee.
Serco, now in contention with CalMac for the service provision, has agreed to send their ferry team to Islay to meet the Committee, and all the points already made to CalMac will be brought up with them. The Minister said that the decision on which a company wins the bid would be made on “35% quality, 65% finance”.