CalMac quangoes: No locals allowed on board

Calls for island representation on quango boards have been reinforced by the current ferry crisis – but resistance to appointing islanders has never been more evident.

Friday, 30th April 2021, 11:50 am
The Isle of Lewis approaching Stornoway. The ageing vessel has been brought back onto the route as cover, causing severe disruption elsewhere and major concern being over how the entire organisation is governed.

Neither CalMac nor CMAL has a single board member, executive or non-executive, who lives on or has any close connection with the islands, critically dependent on the two quangos.

CMAL is chaired by Danish businessman, Erik Ostergaard, who has been on the board since its inception and became chairman in 2014. Yet it can safely be said that few would recognise Mr Ostergaard in any island which CMAL has a key role in.

Other non-execs include an Edinburgh-based lawyer and a banker who is also on the board of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company.

The chief executive, Kevin Hobbs, formerly ran the Port of Milford Haven and has extensive marine experience, none of it in CalMac territory.

CalMac’s board is equally islander free. Its chief executive is Duncan Mackison, a former Royal Marine officer who, when working for Serco, was described as “a formidably driven figure, with the brisk air of someone trained to operate effectively in jungles, bureaucratic and otherwise”.

He keeps a low profile leaving Robbie Drummond, the managing director, to act as public face. Mr Drummond’s background is in banking and accountancy.

None of the seven non-executives has any obvious island connection. The chairman, David McGibbon, is an accountant who also chairs Historic Scotland’s audit committee.

Susan Bromwell is an “HR professional” and she too turns up in other quango roles, currently as non-executive director of the Scottish Prison Service. James Stirling is “technical director of the Canal and River Trust in England and Wales”.

The only one with indisputable maritime credentials is Michael Comerford, who served as Regional Director for Scotland and Northern Ireland of the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency and has shipbuilding experience at senior level.

There is an islander on CalMac’s board but Stephen Hagan is a farmer and councillor on Orkney.

A CMAL spokesperson said that due to election Purdah rules they are unable to comment, but directed us to their three-year plan which states: “The CMAL Board comprises of a non-executive chairman, three non-executive directors and four executive directors – all appointed by Scottish Ministers.

"The Board is the principal decision-making forum for the company. It has overall responsibility for leading and controlling the company and is accountable to the company’s sole shareholder, the Scottish Ministers, for financial and operational performance. The Board approves company strategy and monitors performance.”

The statement adds that “community engagement with island and harbour communities is a compulsory part of all our vessel and major harbour projects and includes regular community and stakeholder meetings, groups and surveys, from the early planning stages through to project completion to provide opportunities for community contribution”.