Letter to Nicola Sturgeon – November 2015

Dear Nicola
I am sorry to have to write to you when you must be very busy on other urgent matters. We have just held our 3rd AGM which was well attended. Our members have become increasingly frustrated at the inability to
make progress. However, we appreciated your involvement ‐ as we did Alex Neil’s prior to the Cabinet reshuffle and your assumption of the Chair of the Gourock Dunoon Ferry Steering Group in 2013. Your contribution and concern gave us hope.
We have met Derek Mackay on 2 occasions – at a Steering Group meeting which he chaired and at a separate meeting which we asked for. Whilst Derek Mackay has also treated us courteously and listened to our concerns, we do not appear to be making any progress with civil servants.
The Scottish Government will not commission Vehicle /Passenger vessels for the Gourock Dunoon town centre route notwithstanding that the recent MVA Consultancy Report recommended a minimum vessel length of 40 metres to ensure weather resilience. Accordingly the Scottish Government has made it clear that only a private operator can commission Vehicle/Passenger vessels with the vehicle component being entirely at the operator’s commercial risk.
The ferry action group has identified:

  • A potential private operator who is willing to consider commissioning new Vehicle/Passenger vessels,
  • A potential ship builder who is willing to build new vessels,
  • Private finance that could be made available to fund new ships.
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However, we assumed a 2 year turn‐around from the decision to award the next Gourock Dunoon ferry contract to commissioning and taking delivery of new vessels. Accordingly we set the summer of 2015 as the target date for the publication of the Invitation to Tender (ITT) as the next contract is scheduled to become operational on 1 July 2017. Clearly our summer target date is already in the past and we will be saddled with the current service for even longer. A service which Alex Neil branded as “Not fit for purpose” and when you told us “The Status Quo is not an option”.
Moreover you have confirmed that the policy of Scottish Ministers is to have a Vehicle Passenger ferry service on the Gourock Dunoon route.

The problem is that Caledonian Maritime Asset Ltd (CMAL) which owns Gourock harbour intends to impose harbour charges (pier dues and berthing charges) of more than £3 million per annum (assuming current service levels) for a Vehicle / Passenger ferry service. This is more than 5 times the operational cost. We have raised our concerns at excessive harbour charges for over 3 years now without success. Indeed, when we initially raised our concerns at excessive harbour charges, CMAL responded by increasing harbour charges!
We wrote to you, Derek Mackay and Alyn Smyth, MEP, a solicitor with qualifications in European law, pointing out that the proposed harbour charges were anti competitive and contrary to Article 82 of the EU Treaty. But still we cannot get satisfaction.
We have also asked that the MV Coruisk is used again as a relief vessel on the route over the winter months.
You will recall that you first agreed to its deployment on 19 September 2013 and then subsequently on 20 August 2014.The MV Coruisk has operated on the route from 19 December until 31 March – but we still do not know whether the vessel will be used less than a month away from the normal date of deployment!
Our patience is exhausted. We are copying this letter to our local MSP as well as all regional list MSPs and to the local Press.
Further we intend to organise another public lobby of the Scottish Parliament in January 2016 with the sole demand that the Scottish Government obeys the Law – i.e. you comply with Article 82 of the EU Treaty.
We have been identified – along with Campbeltown ‐ as one of the most vulnerable towns in Scotland. We are not prepared to allow Dunoon and Cowal to be left dangling without a proper ferry service any longer.
The area has suffered enough We know that you share our concerns as we have worked together in the past to solve many of the issues.
We hope that you can give this final matter of exorbitant harbour fees your attention so that we will achieve our common objective of a Vehicle / Passenger Ferry service for the town centre route.
Yours truly
Susanna Rice
Convenor
c.c.
Derek Mackay, MSP
Alex Neil, MSP
Alyn Smyth, MEP
Michael Russell, MSP
John Finnie, MSP
Rhoda Grant, MSP
Mike MacKenzie, MSP
Jamie McGrigor, MSP
Mary Scanlon, MSP
David Stewart, MSP
Jean Urquhart, MSP
Dunoon Observer
Greenock Telegraph
Oban Times

Nicola Sturgeon – Obey the Law