The Great Scottish Ferries Swindle

Probably no subject prompts more – sometimes heated – discussion in island communities than ferry services. This new book, Who Pays the Ferryman, by Roy Pedersen will, I think, be of great interest in Islay and Jura and will add much fuel to many of these discussions.

After a brief discussion of the history and development of coastal shipping, particularly of ferries, around Scotland, Pedersen makes a critical analysis of existing services and operators, with an examination of costs, subsidies, ship design, routes and frequency of service and an assessment of how well they meet the needs of the communities they serve. He concludes with suggestions of a possible way forward, with detailed proposals for individual routes (including Islay and Jura). Roy Pedersen seems well qualified for this task, having spent most of his life studying and working in this area. He is in a position to make national and international comparisons – with, for example, Norway, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

The subtitle of the book is “The great Scottish ferries swindle”, from which you may assume that the book is not intended as an encomium to the major operators. Indeed, he describes the present setup as “inefficient, costly, unsustainable and not fit for purpose” and attributes this state of affairs to a number of factors including old-fashioned ships, poor environmental performance, long routes, large crews, lack of transparency over costs and traffic figures and well-funded lobbying to promote the status quo. Continue reading.....

Locally, the main interest will be in his comments about the services to Islay and Jura (easily found by an excellent index) and his suggestions for improvement. He repeats the judgement of Professor Alfred Baird that the price of the Finlaggan would have bought three more efficient catamarans.

More controversially, he clearly supports the “overland route” as a realistic and economic longerterm solution which would offer a better service to both islands at a lower cost to the public purse. Will this book change minds? Possibly not, as the question of ferries is often approached with as much passion as logic. But there is no doubting Pedersen’s grasp of the issues involved and his commitment to ferry services which meet the needs of island and peninsular communities and allow scope for their survival and development. In all, a book worthy of serious attention. This book is available from the Celtic House, Bowmore, and online via Amazon

Book review by Richard Russell, published with kind permission of the Ileach Newspaper

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