Earlier I published a story from Carl Reavey on this Blog about Calmac's future on Islay. This was related to a speach from Gordon Ross, the Managing Director of Western Ferries (WF), who was on Islay recently to address a Church of Scotland lunch club meeting at the Lochside Hotel. At this lunch Gordon Ross used the opportunity to draw his audience’s attention once again to what his company continues to portray as a choke on the economic development of Islay - the stranglehold he claims that Caledonian MacBrayne holds over ferry services to the island.
Last Friday Gordon Ross from Western Ferries made another frontal attack at their rival Calmac. Western Ross is very keen on starting their own routes to Islay, Mull and Arran and claim they can make a profitable service without being supported by the government. For reasons unknown to me Western Ferries, and V-Ships, pulled out of the tender process earlier leaving Calmac as the only participant. In the seventies Western Ferries were pushed off the Islay route by the subsidised Calmac Ferries.
A quote from the speech of Gordon Ross:
"I believe there are significant commercial opportunities waiting to be exploited and I want to see this new Holyrood government institute an open water policy that will allow us to compete fairly with Cal-Mac. If the commercial barriers were removed, Western Ferries could turn most, if not all, of Cal-Mac's subsidised loss-making services into commercially viable, more frequent services, and with the bonus of significant savings to the taxpayer."
Bad blood has existed between WF and Calmac since 1974. The private company began operating services to Islay back in the late sixties. They revolutionised sea transport to the island, providing more sailings and modern RO-RO vessels. By 1974 the newly formed Caledonian MacBrayne deployed their new vessel, the PIONEER, with subsidies, under-cutting the private operator and, according to Western Ferries, effectively ousting the private company from the trade they had built up.
Mr Ross then turned his attention to Islay: "On some routes [Calmac's] approach is not just non-reactive to passenger needs, it's an actual constraint on growth. Take Islay. The distillery industry there is having serious problems moving its product off the island. "If Cal-Mac won't react, then for the good of the Scottish economy, it is time to open these routes to fair competition." To be continued...