How 'Frances' helped ‘Erik’ to CalMac chair

The former Scottish Transport Minister, Graeme Dey, never met Erik Østergaard in person before approving his appointment as chairman of David MacBrayne Limited, which includes Caledonian MacBrayne.

By Brian Wilson
Tuesday, 19th April 2022, 1:25 pm
CMAL, which Erik Østergaard chaired, warned against giving the contract for new ferries to Ferguson's. Now he's promoted to chair of parent company David MacBrayne.

That is one piece of information to emerge from a Freedom of Information request from the Gazette to the Scottish Government in an effort to establish the mechanics of how the Copenhagen-based businessman was transitioned from chairman of CMAL to chairman of CalMac.

The response from Transport Scotland also confirms that the appointment of Østergaaard, who remains unknown in Hebridean ports in spite of his 14 years on the board of CMAL, five of them as chairman, would have to be approved by the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon.

Mr Østergaard is a man who “knows where the bodies are buried” in the Ferguson shipyard scandal which is helping to cripple services run by CalMac. The recent report by the Auditor General for Scotland revealed CMAL strongly advised Ministers against placing the order for Hulls 801/802 with the Port Glasgow yard. Now, as chairman of CalMac, the same Ministers have found Mr Østergaard a safe – and silent – haven.

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The closeness of Mr Østergaard to the civil servant who chaired the panel that appointed him is indicated in an e-mail which he sent to Frances Pacitti, who heads the maritime division within Transport Scotland in which he confirmed to her that he had applied for the David MacBrayne chairmanship.

The e-mail sent on July 28th last year read: “Frances, For your information only. You will get it through the official channels. Best regards, Erik”. Ms Pacitti then chaired the panel which recommended Østergaard’s appointment to Ministers.

In answer to the Gazette question about how often Graeme Dey, who lasted only eight months asTransport Minister before resigning, met Øtegaard, the response from the Scottish Government listed four encounters between February and November last year, all of them online.

The first was an “introductory meeting” in June. There were two CMAL meetings while the October 19th remote encounter is described as “David MacBrayne Limited – Applicant Meeting”.

By that time the interviews of two candidates for the Chair role had taken place on September 9th and Ms Pacitti wrote to Mr Dey on September 23rd recommending Østergaard’s appointment. She noted: “As this is a Chair appointment, confirmation that the First Minister is content with the Minister’s preferred candidate is also sought”.

The Gazette asked the Scottish Government to “provide the report which went from the selection panel to Ministers concerning the appointment of Erik Ostergaard as chairman of David MacBrayne Limited, redacting the names of unsuccessful candidates”.

However, the entire report is almost completely redacted, so there is no way for the public to know whether Ms Pacitti made any reference to Østergaard’s performance as chair of CMAL.