Sam formally welcomed David to the committee.
1. Capacity, Timetables & Booking
It was felt that all three issues had been resolved as far as they probably could be in the current circumstances. There were still times when online booking was impossible, but it was hoped this would soon settle down as the backlog was handled. Robert and Chris highlighted the need to maintain capacity later in the year, but Sam pointed out that this would impact on the vessel refit schedule. He advocated petitioning for an earlier resumption of a two-vessel service on the Ardrossan route from Easter 2021.
David reported that he had managed to secure a return booking at the terminal, in spite of the website reporting no spaces, indicating that capacity was being reserved for essential travel. Sally recorded her appreciation of the terminal staff being exceptionally helpful when the website collapsed.
2. Glen Sannox
Sam reported there had been very little information about progress on hulls 801 & 802 other than submissions to the RECC in the spring, which were based on the turnaround report from last October/November. He understood a contract valued at over £2m for additional design or redesign work had been awarded to an Isle of Man company. A further six-figure contract had been awarded to a Lanarkshire shipbuilding consultancy and a £200k contract had been awarded to PWC for an additional nine months' consultancy work on the project. There was little visual evidence of any physical work being done at the yard.
The most significant development was the implementation of systems to provide real time project planning, which should enable the provision of progress reports at frequent intervals. Sam recommended that we write to the RECC chairman and Transport Scotland requesting up-to-date assessments of timescale and budget for completion, which may have far-reaching implications.
Robert opposed this strategy, believing that Covid-19 would be cited as an excuse for lack of progress and information. He estimated that by the time the two hulls were finished, and including the related infrastructure costs, they would have cost in the region of £500m, which, given the current state of the economy, was ridiculous. He felt the Group should demand better value for money with an alternative approach.
John suggested that we ask those in control to conduct a feasibility study into using the Pentalina as a stop-gap and backup until any new vessel is brought into service.
Sharon suggested that Sam's letter should make reference to the economic downturn arising from the impacts of the pandemic, since this has a bearing on the current extravagant proposals.
Sam agreed, but warned that completing 801 might still offer the shortest lead time on bringing a new vessel into service.
Donald believed that in addition to being exorbitant, the current proposals would not improve the reliability and resilience of the service. He favoured writing again to ministers asking them to reconsider.
Sam pointed out that the RECC report contained detailed evidence calling for a more cost-efficient proposal, but to prepare an alternative proposal would cost tens of thousands of pounds.
Donald wondered whether CMAL had even considered alternatives.
Gavin reminded everyone that the Group had already submitted the case for a better alternative to the RECC.
Robert was keen to petition the Scottish Government, based on public support for a better solution, which he suggested we seek. Chris pointed out that in response to our earlier online campaign, we already had confirmed public support.
Bob had obtained the official procedure for preparing and submitting a petition.
Sally thought it important to keep the island informed of how we are responding to their wishes.
Gavin summarised by suggesting Sam's letter to Ministers be published alongside our grave doubts about the current programme, but warned that government commitment to and investment in the current programme would make it very difficult for them to back down.
Bob favoured a petition to the Scottish Government. He thought writing further to Ministers would be a waste of time.
Sally thought there was a central issue of trust and it was important to remind those in authority that we represented the island community.
Sharon agreed with the idea of a petition, but first favoured seeking an update on which to base it.
Donald maintained that a significantly better solution could be found for a lot less money, which would call into question the credibility of the current programme.
David pointed out the need for high level media coverage of the issues and reminded the Group of the professional communication services available from a PR firm that he was confident the island community would be willing to fund.
Following further discussion, the Group voted six to three in favour of adopting a staged strategy, first seeking an official update, publicising this together with the Group's deep misgivings, before deciding on further action, such as a government petition and a mainstream media campaign.
Robert proposed that a sub-group draft a formal petition so that it's ready to submit soon after we receive the requested update.
Sharon agreed to write again to Karen Yeomans, requesting an update in the light of the deleterious economic impact of COVID-19.
Sam agreed to write to CMAL, seeking confirmation that following the proposed repairs and alterations at Gourock, the Glen Sannox will be able to berth there, should it ever come into service.
Sally agreed to write to the chairman, Sir Edward Mountain, seeking an update on progress with their report from their ferry procurement inquiry.
The current state of our lifeline ferry service shows it is not fit for purpose in terms of reliability, resilience and infrastructure. The Arran Ferry Action Group is a new and fully representative lobbying group, set up to represent Arran interests in demanding service improvements and accountability in future investment decisions.