New transport minister has no magic wand to fix ferry crisis

The peaceful protestors who were snubbed by the transport minister.

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Sub-heading: And snubs poor pensioners left in the rain

By Hugh Boag

The full extent of the Arran ferry crisis was laid bare in front of the new Scottish transport minister Graeme Dey when he visited Arran last week.

New figures collated by Isle of Arran Ferry Committee (AFC) show there have been 588 cancelled sailings on the Ardrossan to Brodick route by the end of August, so it is little wonder the minister recognised confidence in the service was at an all-time low.

The number of cancelled sailings represents 17 per cent of the timetable and when time performance is added the users’ real experience of the service drops to 75 per cent which, Mr Dey was told, is not a reliable service which impacts health, family visits, supply issues and difficulty in recruiting staff to cover essential services and other businesses.

The meeting, held in the Orimidale Pavilion last Friday, was also attended by Chris Wilcock, head of ferries at Transport Scotland, Craig Hatton, chief executive of North Ayrshire, and Joe Cullinane, North Ayrshire Council (NAC) leader and Arran MSP Kenneth Gibson.

Mr Dey acknowledged the under investment in the fleet and admitted there was no magic wand to fix the issues. Delivery of the MV Glen Sannox was key for Arran and his team was actively looking for additional tonnage to provide some relief to the fleet. In response to a question around finance, it was stated that buying was more cost effective than leasing – as a long term option – but this did not limit procurement if suitable vessels were identified.

Community engagement was questioned and AFC was reassured this would be improved. The minister shared the frustrations of communities who felt their views had been dismissed. Transport Scotland confirmed this was recognised and future engagement would build on lessons learned.

Mr Dey noted concerns over why the new vessels ‘designed for the route’ required so much work at Ardrossan but also understood that regardless the infrastructure would have required significant work to upgrade and make the port fit for purpose.

Discussion also covered the uncertainty of services whilst Ardrossan upgrades were carried out and the lack of detail on design and timetables for Troon. The Ardrossan landside infrastructure plans are still being established and the community will be consulted before any final decisions are made. These will include building, passenger access, timetables and connecting services, engagement being led by both CalMac and NAC.

The loss of service due to crew hours was also raised with some suggestions submitted but the need for adequate skills and certification is specific to routes and vessels and this will be followed up including consideration of hiring staff for MV Glen Sannox early.

The minister had earlier visited the Brodick terminal, with CalMac managing director Robbie Drummond, and praised the quality of facilities and the staff. He was disappointed to hear of the verbal abuse being experienced by staff at work and when off duty. This has not been experienced anywhere else in the network and is completely unacceptable. The minister asked that anyone with a grievance direct it to the CalMac management or Scottish government, not front-line staff who are doing their best in difficult circumstances.

AFC supported this and encourages everyone to respect staff who are also residents.

Mr Dey confirmed he is asking what, if anything, could be considered to mitigate the disruption as a result of the wind direction at Brodick.

The final point was around the failure to provide toilets at Claonaig and Mr Dey is speaking with the operator to get services provided as soon as possible.

A ferry committee spokesman said: ‘All of the issues will continue to be progressed at AFC monthly meetings and the minister will receive updates through the established channels.’

After the meeting, Mr Gibson said: ‘The minister has met the IoAFC before, online, but was keen to visit Arran for a face-to-face. It was crucial for him to listen to the views of islanders, excellently put by all participants.

‘Important points were raised during what was a very positive meeting and I look forward to continuing to work with the minister, islanders, Transport Scotland, CalMac and Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited to improve the service for everyone.

‘The ferry service is a lifeline for my Arran constituents and the service must evolve and improve to be as reliable as possible.’

A Transport Scotland spokesman said: ‘We fully recognise the key role ferry services play in supporting the economic, social and cultural development of island and remote mainland communities. We continue to work to do everything we can to ensure that new vessels enter service as quickly as possible, to deliver the service improvements upon which our island communities depend. We are actively exploring opportunities for chartering additional tonnage and looking at other credible, affordable and viable options to improve resilience.’


Transport minister Graeme Dey, second right, seen here in the talks as Chris Wilcock, Head of Ferries, Transport Scotland makes a point to Kenneth Gibson and ferry committee secretary Bill Calderwood. NO_B39minister01

The peaceful protestors who were snubbed by the transport minister outside Ormidale Pavilion. See page 2  NO_B39minister02

Transport minister Graeme Dey arrives on Arran to be met by CalMac managing director Robbie Drummond. 01_B39minister04

The transport minister outside Brodick ferry terminal with Mrs Drummond and port manager Colin McCort. 01_B39minister05

Mr McCort at the ferry terminal. 01_B39minister06

Mr McCort speaking to Mr Dey and Mr Drummond in the departure lounge. 01_B39minister07

The minister and Mr Drummond inspect the pier on a dreich day on Arran. 01_B39minister08