Ongoing Inquiry into Construction & Procurement of Ferry Vessels in Scotland

  • Scope of inquiry too narrow
  • No consideration given to Arran route
  • Infrastructure requirement costs ignored by TS/CMAL
  • Current process produces worst outcomes
  • Fundamental change required to provide future for FMPG

The scope of this Inquiry is so narrow and the time available is so short as to prevent proper and full exploration of the subject area. They are just glossing over seriously complex issues, not helped by the lack of basic subject knowledge and the political point scoring by various members.

Arran was barely mentioned so, after the meeting, our representatives present spoke to the CalMac Communities Board members, the Committee Chairman and some MSPs pointing out this omission. A formal request for wider consideration and participation has been sent to the Committee.

Angus Campbell from CalMac Communities Board appeared fully aligned with our aims for network-wide voice and root-and-branch review, and pretty exasperated at the lack of change through consultation, urging everyone to 'listen to the community voice'.

TS/CMAL not factoring the additional costs of infrastructure (indeed reporting the risk as 'low') required for new ferries into overall 'global' project cost. Easily adding another £100m+ to taxpayers for Brodick, Ardrossan, Uig, Tarbert and Lochmaddy upgrades as a direct consequence of 801/802 design. For a global project price of the original £200 million, they could have built 6 x MV Finlaggan, which as 'Islay-max' would work everywhere. And not had to make such large expenditure on infrastructure upgrades. Or maybe 8 Cats similar to the STS proposal. Now, of course, costs might reach £300 million.

FMEL's was the most complex, most expensive bid. The bid would have specified delivery dates, which, as we know, were patently unachievable as they required simultaneous build, which the yard was not capable of. Why award to FMEL against the apparent early warning from CMAL that the risk was too high? We can understand this 'surprise' if they were building in a remote yard, in a different country, but FMEL is literally next door to CMAL. As one of the expert witnesses surmised, "Incompetence, vested interest, or corruption....?"

The three-legged decision process ends with the solution with the 'worst compromises'.
The user wants: 1. Frequency. 2. Capacity. 3. Price. Reliability is in-built as part of 1 and 2.

Complete 801/802 at current spec, complete as stripped back, or scrap and start again? Tough call. Not much support to complete at current spec, other than ScotGov/CMAL/FMPG. Additional £110m v original cost, with a risk they will still be rejected as non-compliant. And a significant 20% risk of further delay and/or yet more cost.
Stripped back completion at maybe £50-60m? We will still end up with a pair of basic and inappropriate boats in 2-3 years.
Scrap at unknown cost plus 2 x new builds. Politically embarrassing, but probably the best overall solution.
Timelines for all options are not wildly differing. If there is apparently £110 million-plus to spend, why not build 3-4 here if they are smaller, more efficiently designed vessels? A pause for a proper review will make negligible difference to cost and timelines - and could reduce both.

User expectation of maintaining 'reasonable' on board service level. Contrary to assertions made, we don't think Mariners can be described as 'fine dining'! Longer routes like Barra would have differing requirements to, say, Arran/Mull. Is one-design-for-all sensible? Perhaps better would be a two-design approach with short haul/long haul versions, with more appropriate crew numbers, that could be seasonally adjusted.

Valid discussions to be had on relative seakeeping / capacity capabilities of multi- v mono-hull. Can an 80m multi handle exposed routes (say Barra) in winter? Maybe the two-design solution would be for an 80m multi for short-haul, 90m monohull for long haul?

A lot of time was devoted to covering the 'crew onboard' in a 'hotel' issue.
A strong case can be built either way here. The argument against crew onboard is made regularly, and it is sound. The counter-argument is that it relies on the following all being guaranteed, as highlighted by Robbie Drummond in our meeting:
a) Suitable crew available locally.
b) Vessel guaranteed to get to home port every night. This doesn't happen on many routes on current timetabling.
c) Weather related issues. When Ardrossan/Brodick are unusable, where do the crew stay? Shore-based crew hotel at every port?
d) Fleet flexibility - vessels can't transfer between routes easily, without significant crew logistics.
Many operators are now re-addressing this issue. There is no clear answer. Indeed, the STS 74m Cat proposed in 2015 has crew accommodation in the hulls, as does BMG 85 Alfred. This has minimal impact on the design fundamentals of the vessel.

Fundamental change is required to give FMPG a viable future. Must have 'best design competence', either in house or in partnership with an existing designer. Do a license deal with Austal/STS for multihull medium/high speed ferries, assembly and fit out only of foreign low-cost fabricated modules, and you have a viable national business for decades. Stay as you are, and you have zero future.

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About Us

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.


Contact Us

Arran Ferry Action Group
Shore Road
Isle of Arran
KA27 8AJ
United Kingdom

+44 (0)1770 302 546