Summer timetables “a compromise” but services improving overall.

The MSP for Argyll & Bute, Michael Russell, who represents more ferry routes than any other constituency member of the Scottish Parliament, has welcomed the publication of the new  Cal Mac summer timetables.

Mr Russell said :  “There has been some considerable  – and very understandable concern regarding the late publication of this information but now it is in the public domain  communities in Argyll & Bute will be pleased to have this confirmation of what will be running and when, and can now encourage  bookings for the summer season.

I am particularly pleased that the Coruisk will remain part of the two vessel service to Mull which was highly successful last year .  There was strong pressure for the vessel to be transferred back to the Mallaig / Armadale route and I understand the disappointment of the communities there that this has not happened.  However the Coruisk has proved itself ideally suited to the Mull crossing and the major increase in traffic recorded last year will, I hope, be sustained and perhaps even surpassed.

There are some disappointments in the timetables including the inability of Cal Mac to respond fully to what the Islay communities say they need.   There have been long running requests for enhanced services at weekends but these proposals fall some measure short of what has been discussed over the past few years.

Overall, however,  the timetables – though always a compromise given the different demands of each route – reflect the continuing improvement in ferry services which has seen a major rise in spending by the Scottish Government, more frequent services and overall year on year improvements which are being enhanced by the commitments being rolled out by Cal Mac as part of its new contract.

I make regular representations on behalf of individual users and communities to the Transport and Islands Minister Humza Yousaf and to the company and I will continue to do so.  This timetable shows that they are listening and responding even if they cannot deliver everything  that everyone wants on every occasion. “


The Constituency MSP for Argyll and Bute Michael Russell has announced that he will be hosting a “ferry summit” on Islay, in collaboration with the Islay Community Council Ferry Committee, after two weeks of cancellations and disrupted traffic caused by damage to the MV Hebridean Isles.

The vessel struck Kennacraig Pier during the evening of Saturday 23rd July and had to be taken to dry dock for repairs. This meant that the service was operated by a single vessel, the MV Finlaggan, from that date until Tuesday 9th August. The MV Finlaggan was also without a fully operating mezzanine deck during that period as the deck has been out of action for several months and can only be installed manually which required more time than is possible on the present timetable. Capacity on the crossing was therefore very substantially reduced (by up- to 50%) at the busiest time of the year.

Moreover as a result of the reduced capacity booking for the Islay service was not possible for a total of 16 days resulting in massive  disruption to the island economy including cancellation of tourist accommodation for days and sometimes weeks and months ahead, delays to deliveries to the island and postponement of shipments leaving the island. These  difficulties came after previous problems with the route earlier this year and on several other occasions over the past few years resulting in a growing lack of faith in the reliability of the route from visitors and locals alike. This is particularly problematic for Cal Mac as the route is responsible for almost 25% of the entire freight revenue earned by the company.

Speaking after a meeting of the Islay Community Council Ferry Committee on the island  Mr Russell said: “The current situation on Islay cannot be allowed to continue. Frequent problems with the ferry service have led to a collapse in confidence in the ability of Cal Mac to service the island efficiently and effectively. The lack of an effective contingency plan to deal with the situation that occurred on the 23rd of July was extraordinary but it is not enough for the Scottish Government and Transport Scotland to point the finger of blame at the company. At every level there has been a systemic failure to ensure that there are sufficient resources and vessels to provide back up in emergency situations and there now needs to be a detailed review of the route and its relationship to other routes and the totality of services provided by the company.

RET has been massively popular and the current Scottish Government has invested heavily in ferry services. We are therefore dealing with a problem of success but we must tackle that problem if the islands are to continue to flourish. If it is not dealt with there will be a decline in island economies further exacerbating depopulation.

I have therefore suggested to the Islay Community Council Ferry Committee that we jointly host a “Ferry Summit” on the island in October to which we will invite all the key players including Cal Mac, Transport Scotland and the Scottish Government. The purpose of the summit will be to allow the facts about the disruption to be put on record, for the damage to the island economy and individual businesses to be quantified, and for agreement to be reached on a contingency plan which would ensure that this cannot happen again.

There have been too many disruptions of this nature in recent years. Islay cannot afford another one so the summit will give the opportunity to ensure that these problems are brought to an end.”

Commenting on the plan Islay McEachern, Chair of the Islay Community Council Ferry Committee said:

“The recent problems with the MV Hebridean Isles and the MV Finlaggan were disastrous for the island and we therefore strongly support  the idea of a “ferry summit” to be held on the island  in October. This must ensure that the facts of the recent disruption are put firmly on the record and the bodies responsible are held to account. We are therefore very pleased to be jointly organising it with our constituency MSP.

As a committee, and on behalf to the island, we have to ensure that there is no repetition of what has taken place too often in recent years. The summit must result in a cast iron commitment from the company, Transport Scotland and the Scottish Government to put in place arrangements to ensure this can never happen again. They have to have contingency plans to cope with it, as well as with any other foreseeable emergency and these need to written in to the new contract for the west coast services which was won by Cal Mac only a couple of months ago.

Islay simply cannot afford to have this situation recurring again and again. The summit is our opportunity to ensure that there is an open transparent and accountable plan in place for the future.”

New, bigger boats stipulated by Scottish Government and a longer contract period

SNP MSP for Argyll & Bute Michael Russell has welcomed the announcement that the tender process for the Gourock-Dunoon route is underway, a move signalled by the issue of the contract notice today.

Mr Russell was reacting to the answer to a Parliamentary Question he lodged yesterday asking when the tender process would start.

Commenting Mr Russell said: “This is good news for the route and those who use it.  The Scottish Government has honoured its promise to secure a contract period of up to 12 years as opposed to the previous six year period, which will give any bidder a much better chance of recouping their investment.

The Transport Minister has also  announced today that the service will require two 40 metre vessels, which will be a considerable improvement on the vessels presently in use.  The service will also operate every half hour at peak times.

Of course new larger boats may create the potential for a successful tender for a vehicle and passenger service and to assist that the method by which the costs for the subsidized part of that – the passenger service – are calculated has also been clarified, pending EU approval. That will be helpful, I am sure, but as I indicated in my statement to the Public Meeting last week I concur with those who are now indicating that whilst they continue to support a vehicle service on the town centre to town centre route, if there is no successful vehicle tender on this occasion all our efforts, nationally and locally, should be put into ensuring the best possible passenger service for the 12 year period without any other distraction.

I am however disappointed by one detail of the contract notice, namely the lack of progress on the vexed question of pier charges on either side of the Clyde. I would urge CMAL and Argyll & Bute Council to reconsider their present stance on this issue as it could deter bidders and prevent progress with the creation of a new, higher quality, service.

We will now have to await a response from companies that have an interest in tendering but we also know that the new service will be in place next summer, which is also good news for the area though the new boats might take a bit longer to build.”

“Congratulations – but lots of hard work lies ahead !”

The MSP for Argyll & Bute Michael Russell – whose constituency contains more ferry routes than any other in Scotland – has expressed his delight at the award of the Hebridean and West Coast tender to Cal Mac but has also predicted that much hard work will lie ahead in order for the company to continue to improve what it provides for the island and west coast communities.

Reacting to the announcement of the award Mr Russell said:

“I am absolutely delighted that Cal Mac has won the tender and I congratulate the whole company, but particularly the CEO Martin Dorchester who ran the bid team. They have presented a compelling and comprehensive case for continuation of the company as the key ferry provider in Scotland.  I am  sure the vast majority of my constituents will be as pleased as I am, as will the staff who work so hard, in all weathers, to provide life line services.

However years of under investment by previous governments have led to a situation where there are regular difficulties on all routes because of shortage of vessels and lack of flexible options so much hard work still lies ahead. Two new ships are now being built but there needs to be further investment in the fleet including re-conditioning of older boats to keep them in service.   The current difficulties with the Isle of Arran, which has not been able to operate the Campbeltown run for a fortnight, is a case in point. New ships also have to be fit for purpose and the current  failure of the mezzanine deck on the Finlaggan means that capacity will be reduced to Islay for the Feis this weekend – the seventh year in a row there have been problems at this vital time of year. In addition the existence of CMal, the asset company, needs to be reviewed as it performs no useful purpose.   A move to a standardised set of vessels using standardised infrastructure is long overdue and CMAL is now an obstacle to that happening.

Finally eyes in Cowal will now turn to the  Dunoon/Gourock tender which will be the next crucial ferry decision in Scotland. There needs to be detailed discussion of what that route actually needs and, as a minimum, further investment in a higher standard of passenger service.

I look forward to working with the company, as an MSP with a huge reliance on ferries, to ensure a constant improvement and today’s award is therefore the start of a process, not the end of one.

Commenting on the Parliamentary Answer which he received today which confirms that the MV Coruisk will be used on the Dunoon/Gourock run this winter to supplement the service, as it was last year, Argyll & Bute MSP Michael Russell said:

“I am very pleased that after representations from myself as the local MSP and from the Dunoon Ferry Action Group the Minister has decided to deploy the Coruisk again. This will be particularly welcome given the exceptionally poor weather of recent days and confirms the Scottish Governments on-going support for local travellers who also have a regular and reliable commercial vehicle service operating as well.” 

Welcoming the news that the Campbeltown to Ardrossan pilot ferry service which has operated for the last 3 years in the summer is to be made permanent, SNP Argyll and Bute constituency MSP Michael Russell said:

“I am delighted that Derek Mackay has announced such an excellent Christmas present for the people of Kintyre. This was, when launched in 2013, the first new Scottish ferry route in more than two decades and its success has led to the very welcome decision today, to make it permanent.”

“The enthusiasm of the Campbeltown community and the hard work of local representatives, especially Councillor John Armour and Councillor Anne Horn, have made all the difference. I am sure the community will now want to discuss with Transport Scotland the details of future timetables in order that the service maximises the visitor potential for Kintyre”

Argyll and Bute SNP MP Brendan O’Hara adds:

“I’m absolutely delighted that the Scottish Government have delivered this much needed ferry service to Campbeltown. It really is great news and this new regular scheduled ferry service will be a major economic boost in supporting existing businesses, encouraging new enterprises and in bringing even more visitors to the Mull of Kintyre.
My congratulations must go to the Campbeltown Ferry Group for the way they presented their case to the government and to the whole community for the way they have supported this campaign.”

Councillor for South Kintyre, John Armour concluded:

“This a great and welcome Christmas present for the people of Kintyre. I will work with others in the area to market this service. I’d like to pay tribute to the Scottish Government for going ahead with this service which would not have gotten off the ground without the work of ex councillor John Semple, for that I thank him and Mike Russell MSP for their support.”

Speaking in a Scottish Parliament debate on the issue of ferry tendering Argyll & Bute MSP Michael Russell has given backing to the campaign by the Dunoon Ferry Action Group to have the extraordinarily high charges for the use of the pier at Gourock removed.

Any new service would have to find £3 million a year for the use of Gourock Harbour, a charge that DGFAG describe as “anti – competitive” under European Law.

Speaking in the debate in a speech that also referenced a number of other key ferry issues in the constituency including difficulties with the Islay and Colonsay service caused by a shortage of vessels Mr Russell said:

“I agree with the Dunoon ferry action group that the major problem in restoring a vehicle service there is not just finding a body to tender for it, but the price that Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd—CMAL—intends to charge for the pier in Dunoon. One of the big changes that we could have in Scotland would be to remove CMAL from the equation. Ferry services operated perfectly effectively without that intervening body for years. I do not think that there is any necessity for CMAL to be there.”

Speaking after the debate Mr Russell added:

Although I am very supportive of the excellent service provided by Western Ferries there is clearly a demand for further competition on the route .  That can only happen, however, if another company wishes to offer a new service. At present the charges from CMAL – which is a monopoly –  are set at a level which will deter any innovation. I am also far from convinced that CMAL is a necessary part of the ferry infrastructure and I would encourage the Scottish Government as it takes forward its ferry plans to look again at this body and find a way of removing it, thus allowing ferry operators to own and manage their own vessels.

I am proud of what the Scottish Government has done in difficult times for ferry services in this constituency and particularly pleased about the impact of RET which has been delivered as promised. I want to see Cal Mac retain the overall tender for the Hebrides and West Coast and then I want to see more vessels built. On the Dunoon Gourock route if an operator is prepared to bid for the route there could be a new service but for that to happen CMAL has to change or eliminate its demands.”

Argyll and Bute MSP, Michael Russell has welcomed announcements from the Scottish Government including an increase in support for air services made during the “Empowering Scotland’s Island Communities” debate this afternoon in the Scottish Parliament. 


As the constituency MSP who represents most inhabited islands – the islands of Argyll – he noted that those Islands have not been directly represented in discussions that the Minister has had with the Island authorities. Although this was not the Ministers fault Mr Russell explained: “the refusal of the Islands Councils to include the Argyll islands has been the problem and I do hope that even at this late stage the Island Authorities will re-consider this exclusive attitude which lacks both solidarity and generosity.” He went on to add “I hope the Minister will today not only renew the commitment to ensure that Argyll islands are treated the same way in terms of benefiting from positive outcomes from the Islands Bill but also endeavour to bring them in to formal discussions, starting with the new strategic ferries group”.


Mr Russell then outlined the importance of “connectivity – digital and physical” which he said is “key for the future of the islands.”   


“Mobile phone services remain very poor as a result of lack of investment from the providers” he added  and whilst “the rollout of high speed broadband is making progress there is still too much confusion about what will be delivered and when”. 


He praised the SNP Government for completing the implementation of RET which will take place later this month , recalling that he and others had started arguing  for it in the late 1970s, but he also welcomed what he called the “next step  – a review of freight charges to introduce a better structure that enables growth is essential”.   He also strongly criticised Loganair for disruptions to its island services and asked the Minister to ensure that the company honoured its commitments to islands and especially to Islay. 


The consultation on the Future Islands Bill announced by Islands Minister Derek MacKay will run until 23rd December and Mr Russell has encouraged his constituents to make their own representations.


“Islands do need a new vision” he concluded “supported by Government but implemented locally. A vision in which there is a greater degree of island autonomy, where the community is in control of its own destiny and where local organisations and third sector can build capacity and confidence.”

Michael Russell, the MSP for Argyll & Bute, has welcomed the announcement by the Scottish Government of major enhancements to the ferry services on the West Coast of Scotland from next summer.

Mr Russell said :

“These announcements are very good news.   Not only has the Scottish Government honoured its commitment to introduce RET across the Hebridean and West Coast routes in this Parliament – a task that will be completed next month when Bute and Mull join the scheme – and recently commissioned two new vessels but it is now signalling its intention to go on investing and improving ferry services for the benefit of our island communities.

Mull has been waiting for a long time for a timetable that would make doing daily business between the island and the mainland a realistic proposition.  I have been involved with a number of groups who had wanted an early morning service and the use of two vessels and the increase of 50  crossings a week will go a long way to ensuring that the island can take advantage of the short  link to Oban.   I am sure that Cal Mac will also want to work on better reliability on the route given the high level of cancellations over the last year but if that can be sorted then the new opportunities allied with the reduction in costs from RET from this October will be a major boost to the island economy.

The increase in sailings for Coll, Tiree and Colonsay will also be very welcome.   The success of RET has meant that some summer sailings to Coll & Tiree have been difficult to book for weeks in advance and greater capacity will allow greater flexibility and better opportunities for visitors and residents alike.   Colonsay has been hit hard by cancellations this year with some severe difficulties in terms of reliability of vessels so once again if reliability can be improved alongside new services and RET this will be hugely beneficial.

Two significant areas of concern remain.  Islay has also had significant problems with ferry reliability this year and the island is very concerned about any possible erosion of the overall capacity on the Kennacraig route which requires not just two vessels but two large vessels.  Islay is not only a tourist destination it also produces a very substantial amount of whisky and has a strong agricultural trade.  There must be a commitment to that route and improvements on it and I shall continue to press the issue.

The people of Kintyre are also keen to get a firm commitment to the continuation of the Ardrossan service which has just completed its three year pilot phase.  It has worked well but a more flexible timetable is needed to fit in with the realities of holiday lets and the needs of local people and I am glad that the Minister has agreed to meet a delegation from Campbeltown led by Cllr John Armour in October.  I hope he will have good news for the area. “

Argyll & Bute MSP Michael Russell – who represents more ferry routes than any other constituency MSP – has welcomed the Scottish Government decision to ensure that Blue Badge holders will be still be able to access reduced vehicle fares on the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services (CHFS) network from October 2015.
A new 25% discount for Blue Badge holders will be applied on Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) vehicle fares, which are also due to come into effect across the whole CHFS network at the start of the Winter timetable.The discount will be available on car, motorhome and motorbike fares.

In cases where the new discounted RET fares are more expensive than the previously available discount, the fares will be capped at the lower level. The discount will be open to both islanders and non-islanders that hold a Blue Badge.

Mr Russell said :
I have argued for RET since I lived in the Western Isles, more than thirty years ago. I am delighted that it was an SNP Government that finally introduced it. It has been beneficial to every area and that will be true for Bute , Cowal and Mull when they complete the roll out in October.
However more can be done and I welcome this initiative as well as the review of freight charges which is now underway.
I know that Derek Mackay as both Transport and Islands Minister wants our Islands and the attractions they offer to be as open and accessible as possible and this initiative will help both visitors and residents alike.
This is more evidence of the Scottish Government’s commitment to investing in our ferry services and continued support for the Island economies, something that is of particular importance in Argyll & Bute.”