Ferry Action Group’s response to Neil letter
September 7, 2012
(23 August 2012) Dear Alex,
Your letter of 8 August on behalf of the First Minister has been considered by the Management Committee of the Action Group. Because of the significant local interest in the issue we would like your agreement to publish this correspondence so that the local community is aware of your views.
We are pleased to note that our objective is also that of the Scottish Government. We are also pleased that your letter of 3 pages provided detailed analysis. This demonstrates the serious thinking you are giving to this issue.
There are a number of initial comments we would like you to consider.
As you know DGFAG were not party to the original three point plan agreed between Transport Scotland and Argyll and Bute Council. However we were hoping that replacement of the MV Ali Cat would be effected quickly and expected a vessel from within the existing CalMac fleet to be used, probably the MV Saturn or the MV Coruisk. It was very disappointing to learn that the MV Saturn’s condition had been allowed to deteriorate at a time when the problems on the route were known. We believe that the Coruisk remains a viable interim solution. We would also support the purchase or lease of a RoRo vehicle ferry which would have a long term future on the route, as this would meet the criteria of the Financial Review particularly with respect to weather and reliability. It is impossible for us to support even the lease of a passenger only ferry which does not support the reliability required by the Financial Review as this would simply be repeating the existing mistake. Can you check to see whether the MV Coruisk can be used as an interim replacement for the Ali Cat over the winter as it is currently scheduled to lie anchor at Roseneath?
For our part our analysis is simple. A reliable service – one that is not subject to regular adverse weather cancellations – requires bigger boats. These are costly to operate and could only be economically viable if they generate revenue from vehicle fares.
You state that if the Scottish Government had commissioned new ferries for the service, a successful tender company might have wanted to use their own or different vessels as the requirement to use commissioned vessels could have been found to breach EU regulations. In consequence the outlay for newly commissioned vessels would be wasted.
You also make the point that there are no suitable alternative vessels available on the market. Clearly if there was any prospect of companies supplying their own vessels for the route – and this was a concern in the period of the first SNP Government – that can no longer be the case. In effect you have market tested the potential for private companies supplying their own vessels and found that they can’t because they do not exist!
We understand your concern with regard to the application of EU regulations. The current position has resulted in a Western Ferries monopoly of vehicle traffic from the Cowal peninsula. You have told us that the MD of Western Ferries has, to your face, stated that he would initiate court proceedings if the Scottish Government uses public funds to commission new vehicle ferries for the Dunoon / Gourock route!
The Dunoon Gourock Ferry Action Group has not been impressed with the interpretation of EU law provided by and to Scottish Ministers on this issue. Indeed, it is in the interests of the commerical operator to promulgate a notion of EU law that precludes the potential of an alternative vehicle carrying service.
In the circumstances we are seeking a definitive statement of EU law on this issue and will communicate this to you in due course.
If, as we expect, this clarifies that the Scottish Government is able to commission new purpose built ferries for the route and specify their use without breaching EU regulations – and subject to the outcome of the Financial Review – we would expect you to recommend that this be done.
We shall also examine the legal implications of cancelling the existing contract this enabling a new vehicle and passenger carrying service to operate.