Consultation on ferries will not be restricted by ‘red lines’

Angus Campbell says he will take his lead from the public.Angus Campbell says he will take his lead from the public.
Angus Campbell says he will take his lead from the public.
The former council leader who has been appointed to consult on the future of west coast ferry services has said it will be “an open consultation based on what people tell me”.

Angus Campbell, the former leader of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, told the Gazette that he would not be restricted by “red lines” laid down by the Scottish Government which appear to rule out in advance radical options for reorganisation.

Although his appointment was announced a month ago by Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth, Mr Campbell said he has not yet been given a written remit or assurances about logistical support that will be required to consult with island communities and collate the responses.

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Mr Campbell’s commitment to “an open consultation” comes amid concerns that most of the options have been ruled out in advance by the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, saying that neither privatisation nor “unbundling” will be considered.

The chairman of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s transportation committee, Uisdean Robertson, has criticised this as it appears to rule out local involvement along Norwegian lines or the possibility of establishing a new Outer Hebridean ferry company within the CalMac framework.

When the Gazette asked the Scottish Government for clarification of the consultation’s remit, a spokesman insisted that it would take place within the parameters laid down by the First Minister and reiterated by Ms Gilruth, including “no unbundling”.

Further doubts have been cast on the scope or potential influence of the consultation by evidence that the Scottish Government is already pressing ahead with it own preferred option which is the re-merger of CMAL and CalMac into a single organisation.

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Writing in the Times newspaper, Professor Alf Young – who has closely followed the ferry saga – suggested that the process of bringing the two bodies together is already under way with “CMAL’s top team poised to run the service from fleet replacement to delivery”.

Professor Young revealed that the chief executive of David MacBrayne Ltd, parent company of CalMac, resigned suddenly last month after “being told that he would not be considered for the top job when Scottish ministers merge the CMAL and David MacBrayne operations together again, in a belated bid to streamline delivery of troubled ferry services.”

As reported on page 13, the Auditor General for Scotland is now investigating serious allegations about irregularities in the way CMAL, at the behest of the Scottish Government, awarded the doomed contract for two CalMac ferries to the Ferguson yard in Port Glasgow.

There is likely to be considerable concern in west coast communities if the extent of restructuring is for CMAL and CalMac to be brought together under the leadership of Mr Østergaard.