Arran Banner letters – week 37

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James will be much missed


I would like to take thank James O’Neil for all his hard work for Isle of Arran Music School.

James was one of reasons the music school exists. He was at the inception of the original projects, worked tirelessly to set up the charity and sought the funding to get the projects off the ground.

James’ personality has been such a positive for everyone involved. He always has a smile and cares deeply about the lives of tutors, trustees, committee, parents and students.

It has been a pleasure working with James. As he has now stepped back from being the charity’s chairperson, it is evident how much extra work he put in weekly and never complained about it.

Although he is no longer involved with the projects, James is still going to honour his Kilt Walk to raise money for uniform for the island’s Schools’ Pipe Band.

There will always be a reserved seat at future concerts.

Quinton Black,


Isle of Arran Music School.


Is anyone to blame?


I refer to the Arran Banner of two weeks ago, specifically the article regards the new ferry.

I have also been following televised proceedings of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee investigation into the construction and procurement of ferry vessels in Scotland with interest.

I am pleased to advise all protocols and procedures for blame passing and responsibility denial, appear to be robust and are being strictly adhered to.

It is clear Transport Scotland is not to blame as it only specified the fuel, passenger and freight capacity and frequency and announced the contract price before it had been agreed. CalMac had no input as it is only the operator which has to work with what it is given, although they maybe didn’t or maybe did want dual fuel vessels. It’s not quite clear.

CMAL are totally blameless. It took the specification it was given, sent it out to tender, accepted the Ferguson Marine bid, which although it was the most expensive, apparently represented ‘best value’. The fact the ferry was too big to fit Ardrossan is just one of these things that happens. And it’s only another £30m or so needed to put that right.

The major blame is down to Fergusons which was totally under resourced to handle a contract of this size and complexity and should not have been awarded it, despite being the most expensive and therefore best value. I may have missed the bit about due diligence being carried out that must have happened at some point. Surely. Fortunately the yard has now been nationalised and any future problems regards pricing and delivery can be swept under the carpet or blamed on the previous operators.

So there is no need for anyone to accept blame and resign. Ferguson’s investors have lost their money and senior management their jobs, but some shipbuilding jobs have been preserved on the Clyde at a cost to be revealed in future. Maybe.

Anyway, it’s only an extra £100m or so, plus port infrastructure. And the ferry is only three years late, so need for any upset or recriminations.

So that’s all right then.

Incidentally, rumour has it the Brodick terminal was originally priced around £19m but ended up costing around £30m. If that is correct, who picked up the bill for the difference? Transport Scotland (taxpayer), CMAL (taxpayer) or the builder?


Archie Cumming,



CalMac managing director Robbie Drummond wrote in a Scottish national newspaper last week that he believed CalMac was ‘delivering a reliable service. 

He said: ‘We firmly believe we are delivering a secure and reliable service to islanders. An independent survey, involving more than 7,000 people last month, revealed 90 per cent customer satisfaction with CalMac during the Covid-19 crisis which, given the number of rapid changes in response to changing circumstances, is a tremendous endorsement of the commitment and skill of our staff.’

A reply from Arran resident Neil Arthur:


No end in sight


In response to the very public claim by Robbie Drummond that ‘CalMac is delivering a reliable service’, I should like to make the following observations.

There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors behind his correspondence and there will be a lot of island residents, businesses and tourists on Arran and elsewhere who will not share Mr Drummond’s view. Perhaps he might like to speak to passengers who, on Septmeber 3 and September 4 were caught up in the consequences of another mechanical failure at Ardrossan.

This entailed lengthy delays, cancellations and a detour to Troon. Many car bookings were cancelled as passengers were forced to abandon their vehicles in Ardrossan and Brodick and continue on foot. It was nothing to do with the unfortunate Waverley incident or Covid. It was another consequence of neglect and lack of investment in the necessary infrastructure and provision of a viable port of refuge.

If all of that was not bad enough, it was Mr Drummond who led the bid for the current contract and as he submitted his bid he knew, as a then CalMac employee, that the fleet provided to him by CMAL was knackered, well beyond its sell by date with an increasing catalogue of breakdowns and maintenance. There is no spare vessel to cover any such contingencies. Knowing all that he still signed.

From a night class at the Glasgow College of Commerce more than 50 years ago I’ve always understood that for a contract to be compliant and legal it had to be achievable – maybe I wasn’t paying attention?

The present administration, through their civil servants at Transport Scotland and their arms-length agents Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited, who own and supply the vessels and most of the onshore pier, have been woefully lacking in efficient procurement and supply. In fact, in the 13 years since this administration came to power in Holyrood they have built less than half the vessels of the previous 13 years. This is true no matter how it is measured i.e. vessel tonnage, vessel length, passenger capacity or vehicle capacity. Yet at the same time demand for capacity increases on all routes year on year.

Mr Drummond claiming credit for the outcome of a self-fulfilling Covid related survey or historically ‘for the best fish n’ chips served on the Minch’ and other spurious accolades does nothing for those of us who know better in that the present the fleet is unreliable and unsustainable and is putting an unnecessary burden on island economies and ways of life.

I would urge him, CMAL Transport Scotland and the Transport Minister to face up to the reality of what is happening. If it is bad now, and it is, it is only going to get worse. The First Minister has strenuously resisted any overtures to address this ongoing scandal and I don’t suppose she will now. For the hundreds of millions of pounds wasted on Mackay’s Folly at Fergusons, the entire fleet could probably have been replaced with conventional vessels, many of which could have been servicing the routes now, not in 2022/23.

For those less familiar with Edinburgh than the west coast, I would remind you again of the words of Professor Alf Baird, a world-renowned ferry expert, in his preface to Roy Pedersen’s ferry exposé Who pays the Ferryman?

In 2013 Alf perceptively wrote: ‘The ongoing ferry fleet and port procurement activities sponsored by the state make the Edinburgh tram debacle look like a very good deal indeed.’ So it remains today but worse and still with no end in sight.


Neil Arthur,



Practical necessity


Two points arise from articles in the September 4 Banner. Firstly, events of the last 24 hours show the facility for the ferry to use Troon when unable to berth at Ardrossan, either due to weather, or the latter being ‘broken’ again, is a matter of practical necessity and not political expediency.

Perhaps it is Kenneth Gibson who is trying to hang on to his majority?

Secondly, everyone travelling to Arran with a motor vehicle makes a last-minute stop to brim up their fuel tanks before checking in at Ardrossan ferry terminal. Why on earth would anyone travel here, in a vehicle which uses any type of fuel, run on empty, particularly if they have experienced previous problems ‘topping up’ on the island?

I am lucky. I can fill my motor with diesel at retailers not only on Arran, but worldwide. However, one thing intrigues me. Having found the correct three-pin socket from which to charge his eco machine’s Ever Readies  – other brands are available – how does Mr McDowall differentiate between the wriggly amps going into his batteries? Those generated by the ever-growing forests of turbines marching unstoppably across the landscape, as against those emanating from dirty old coal/gas/oil-fired or, heaven forbid (whisper it) nuclear power stations?


P W Yates,



Wasted water


Adverts from Scottish Water in the Banner urge us all to save water on Arran.

Having been lucky enough to visit the island twice in August, despite the weather related cancellations, I could not help noticing the continuous loss of water from an overflow at the old CalMac building, next to the car check-in booth.

This looks like a simple cistern failure which should be easily fixed. How much water has been wasted during the least four weeks this has been left to run? I think the building is owned by CMAL so come on someone get it stopped and fixed.


Eric McAllister,