Arran Banner letters – week 34

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Torrid week

An open letter to Mr Robbie Drummond, managing director at CalMac.


On Monday August 20 up to 448 passengers were given just 16 hours notice that their ferry tickets for the MV Isle of Arran were useless for the booked sailings. CalMac then advised passengers the Arran ferry terminal had shut their IT booking systems down because of information-overload and it could take up to a week to sort out.

Firstly, CalMac call centre staff at the sharp end, answering the telephones, dealing with upset and anxious customers, should be highly commended. A difficult job for ferry firm folk. From the five conversations I had, all of your CalMac staff handled these challenging situations calmly, professionally and with good grace. But Robbie, this should not be happening. CalMac have been in the business since 1851. If the ships aren’t running properly after 167 years of trying to get this right, then when?

The MV Isle of Arran will be off for days and thousands of passengers will be let down to some degree. On top of this, there is ‘the list’. CalMac customer complaints that regularly grace this letter’s page in the Arran Banner. For example: (i) Brodick Ferry Terminal being a significant problem for folk who have a disability; (ii) The profligate waste of £30m for a ferry terminal that should cost no more than £6m to build; (iii) The £100m cost of taxpayer funding for overly large ferries which are obscenely too expensive and oversized for the Arran service; (iv) the significant docking problem and missed sailings that will happen at Ardrossan when the MV Glen Sannox and MV Corporate Ego can’t get into the mainland port because of the massive sail area on the slab sided vessels; (v) the millions of pounds in wasted fuel by carting crew accommodation on the ship’s structure like some massive wet caravan, when the shipping operator would reduce the taxpayer burden by providing crew houses in Ardrossan and Brodick; (vi) the historic senior management failure in preparing for Road Equivalent Tariff traffic growth. The list goes on and on. Enough to fill a whole edition of the Arran Banner.

Mr Drummond, you have a very impressive CV: CalMac group finance director, transition director, bid director and service delivery director. One of the best in a generation of CalMac managing directors.  Here is a golden opportunity for you to make permanent your position, and ensure CalMac survives beyond the next tender round.

Constructive suggestion: Please send the two massive newbuilds to serve the Outer Hebrides where they are much more suited. Then go back to the drawing board. Ask your naval architect for a medium size ‘class’ of ship design at £9m each. Order three for starters. Then rotate two of them on the Ardrossan-Brodick route. Plug in the third when it gets overly busy. That works well. Don’t take my word for it. Cast your eyes up the Clyde to Western Ferries. They have the right size of vessel for their service. They plug in an extra ship to suit the exigencies and demands of their route. If you bring three mid-sized ships such as modern equivalents of 1985 vintage MV Hebridean Isles and 1983 MV Isle of Arran plus another of this class (modern 2018-2020 design) to Arran, then islanders will have a ferry service that starts at 5am in the morning and ends each day at 11pm. There will be a reliable backup ship to cover extra demand to plug in at Brodick, just as Western Ferries do at Hunters Quay. We would avoid nightmare break-downs such as this week.

If CalMac don’t get the numerous problems sorted out on the Arran route, then Robbie, how about leasing the old Brodick ferry terminal and linkspan to some of the disgruntled islanders/passengers who have been watching CalMac fail to learn lessons over the past 50 years? Seriously. There is more than enough qualified, experienced and able people on the island to run our own ferry service. This happened up at Orkney. Andrew Banks’ Pentland Ferries is an exemplar of how a local ferry company should and can work.

Instead, here on Arran, each time we get one of these nautical nightmares, it risks the jobs of people who live and work on the island. Mr Drummond, I would be amazed if you replied to this letter. But very happy if you stick your head above the parapet and spoke to many of the distressed passengers regarding this latest, torrid ferry week.


Russ McLean,

Car fly-tipping


There is a problem with dumping of old cars in the Whiting Bay area. This activity is difficult to snuff out because the police and local authority have little power in law  and it is difficult to prove who has done the dumping. An old car with windows smashed has been dumped in the parking place at the Apiary at Arran Community Land. Most people who know anything in Whiting Bay know the probable culprit but the law is such that people get away with this sort of behaviour without being prosecuted because the Council is not concerned unless the vehicle is dumped on the road and the police have little power, other than a warning.

In a modern society this littering of the countryside with old bangers should be against the law. Disposing of old vehicles on an island is more expensive than it is on the mainland and maybe there should be a more affordable way of recycling these vehicles off the island which is subsidised by the state – it is an environmental issue after all – so that dumping is not worth the money paid to the dumper.


John Cruickshank,

Whiting Bay.

Ramblers rescued


As a group of 17 walkers from Bearsden and Milngavie Ramblers, we had just completed a lovely 8.5 mile circuit around Whiting Bay and Kings Cross area on Saturday August 11, in glorious weather. The kind staff of Coast opened up to serve us coffee and cake, even though they were preparing for their evening service. When the 4.50pm number 323 bus came, it was surprisingly busy and there were six of us who couldn’t get on. We were going to miss the 6.00pm Ferry! On the advice of the very helpful lady in the Bay Stores shop, we thumbed a ride -success! A very kind young man who was only going to Lamlash took three of us all the way to the ferry, but the couple who had overheard our conversation at the Bay Stores really came up trumps by taking the first three to Brodick and then coming back to collect the second three, by dropping the wife off at home to collect her car so that she could quickly come back to Whiting Bay for us (before the second car arrived and unfortunately unknown to the three of us with the young man!)

We are truly grateful to all of these knights in shining armour who did all that with a smile.

Arran is GREAT and apologies to the gentleman’s wife who had a fruitless journey back to Whiting Bay.


Sheila Crawford,

Bearsden and Milngavie Ramblers.

Christian collection


The Christian Aid 2018 door to door collection in Shiskine, Machrie and Blackwaterfoot has raised the fantastic total of £950. Thank you to everyone who donated.


Joan Stewart,

Christian Aid.