CMAL's Danish chair now to lead CalMac!

In an unannounced move, the Scottish Government has appointed the current chairman of Caledonian Marine Assets Ltd as the next chairman of David MacBrayne Limited, the parent company of CalMac.

By Brian Wilson
Thursday, 2nd December 2021, 9:24 am
Updated Thursday, 2nd December 2021, 9:25 am
Erik Ostergaard
Erik Ostergaard

Despite the high level of public interest in the issues surrounding CMAL and CalMac, no press release was issued by the Scottish Government and no other attempt was made to publicise or explain it.

The Danish businessman, Erik Ostergaard, who now heads CalMac has led CMAL into multiple controversies and is virtually unknown in the islands in spite of being on the procurement quango’s board since its inception in 2007.

He is due to take over the David MacBrayne/CalMac role on January 3rd and will stand down from CMAL at the same time, prompting speculation that the two organisations may be merged in the near future.

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Demands for islanders to be appointed to the CalMac board have again been ignored. The three other appointments include two seasoned quangoteers and the chairman of the Western Isles Health Board’s audit committee, Tim Ingram, who is based on Aberdeen.

The other new appointees are Sharon O’Connor who sits on the Accounts Commission of Scotland while Grant Macrae doubles as a board member of the Scottish Police Authority. Neither of them has any obvious island or maritime experience.

Speculation about the appointment of Ostergaard as a prelude to CMAL and Caledonian MacBrayne being brought back together as a single entity follows the disastrous failure of the Ferguson yard in Port Glasgow to deliver two ferries ordered by CMAL and other expensive failures.

A review by Ernst&Young of the CMAL, CalMac, Transport Scotalnd relationships – prompted by a Holyrood committee’s findings of “catastrophic failure” over the Ferguson order has now been completed and publication is believed to be imminent.

Meanwhile, the impact on CalMac’s services of past procurement failures continue to unfold on a daily basis. On Wednesday, the Oban-Lochboisdale sailing was cancelled because there was no relief ship available after the Lord of the Isles visit to drydock in Birkenhead overran.

The bitter dispute over downgraded timetable plans for next summer’s Uig-Tarbert-Lochmaddy services continued to unfold as “compromise” plans emerged and were widely dismissed as inadequate. The timetable is due to be finalised within the next few days.

A revised proposal from CalMac envisaged use of the mezzanine deck on some sailings but not on others, leading to a 20 per cent cut in capacity. However, Kenny MacLeod, chairman of the Harris Forum, roundly rejected the “compromise”

He wrote to CalMac: “We are left completely flabbergasted at this correspondence and the fact it is totally ignoring previous responses from us as a community. We have stated very clearly on numerous occasions that we were not looking for anything other than a resumption of the service schedule and capacity we had in pre-Covid years.

“We have no idea where this third option has come from as it is not something that has come up in any consultation within the community. How often do we have to shout ‘no’ very loudly before our views are accepted? Perhaps the most illuminating thing with this correspondence is that it is clear that the main aim all along has been to save money and not because there are issues maintaining the contracted lifeline service of previous years or to protect crew rest hours”.

In a letter, CalMac transport planning manager Demi Wylie said that “given mezzanine decks are not always deployed” the proposal will “minimise any capacity reductions”.