18 Sep 2010
Mull’s Ferry may be put out to tender
This one’s for anyone who has a particular love for the Isle of Mull. According to a recent report in Am Muileach, one of the island’s local weekly papers, the Scottish Government is asking for input into the Scottish Ferries Review. The consultation closes on the 30th of September so if you have a view on how Mull (or other islands) are serviced by ferries, this is your chance to make your views known.
The paper explains that the Review document can be found online and warn that it’s quite a lengthy document but has links to the online questionnaire. You do not have to answer all the questions however, so if you have a view, whether as a local, or as a past, present or future visitor, please take a moment to take part.
The big question is what happens to the vital lifeline of the Oban to Craignure route? In this review the Scottish Government has apparently suggested that they are specifically going to consider this single service being put out to tender. The whole point of tendering is to try to get competitive bids, but the reality is that there aren’t many island ferry routes that a private contractor would jump at — they’re just not profitable. The Mull route is however. So, for me at least, even the notion of breaking up the Caledonian Macbrayne routes seems ill-judged. If you take away one of the profitable routes from CalMac, they have even less cash to service the unprofitable island routes.
At the same time, the cost of getting to Mull, which for a standard car and passengers is about 80 pounds with two adults and two kids at the moment, might simply go up. After all, if it were to be tendered successfully the whole point of tendering for the bidder is to secure a route where they believe there’s money to be made. To secure it they need to keep costs to a minimum in the tendering process. The government can then absolve itself of the responsibility to the community of maintaining the vital lifeline to the mainland by getting a bid that takes that burden off its hands. But then the successful private company is going to be looking to make up its low tender offer by squeezing more profit from travellers.
In other words, I can’t see how the Oban to Craignure run can be hived off from the rest of CalMac’s routes without it being bad for tourists, which would then be bad for Mull’s local community. There’s a bigger picture here which says that for Island life on Mull, and elsewhere, to thrive the Scottish Government has to accept that it needs to treat Ferries as a vital utility that must be maintained in order to make these beautiful parts of Scotland viable over the long term. Short term cost-cutting through tendering off profitable ferry routes will, I think, ultimately depress other economic activity on Mull and make it a less appealing destination for tourists. No-one, surely, wants that?
We pay taxes so Goverment and local government can maintain our roads and motorways. Ferry routes are the highways to the islands and, as such, Government must be charged with maintaining them for the benefit of tourists, trade and locals. So, until it can be proved otherwise, it’s probably a case of… better the devil you know!