Share |
The truths they don't want you to read....

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ferries, RET and Governement planning

There is no doubting the success of the (penny-pinching) RET scheme that has run on the Western Isles routes.

There is a certain logic in the policy that needs to be considered and adopted, if any politician is truly in favour of RET as an instrument of economic policy.

It is at that point that the current policies fall down, and there needs to be a wider understanding of the implications of current (almost) RET policy and the implications of a proper RET policy (like the one the SNP used to advocate in opposition).

The Stornoway-Ullapool ferry was always running near or about capacity during the summer months and one strand of the complaints from the Comhairle was about the lack of information about 'lost' business. How many tourists turned up in Ullapool and couldn't get on the ferry? 100, 1000 or 10,000? No-one knew, and CalMac made no secret of the fact that they couldn't/didn't record this information.

The Council believed - probably correctly - that a combination of cost and capacity issues meant that we lost out on a huge amount of potential tourism on the islands. No-one could quantify this, so estimates ranged from the low to the ridiculous, but either way it was probably significant.

RET has dramatically increased traffic: but is this extra journeys for local people and businesses, or new visitors to the islands? My - totally unscientific - assessment is that there is a lot more local people and businesses making more use of the ferries, often replacing an equally full plane.

The extra tourist volumes are relatively minimal, with more advance bookings due to the lower costs, but the same or fewer impulse travellers due to the ferry being full.

The problems have been flagged up for decades, but need to be restated.
  • Cheaper travel
  • More travellers
  • Bigger ferries
  • More frequent journeys
We have got the more frequent journeys as a way of spreading the load across seven days instead of six (actually adding only one journey to an existing 14) but this is only a temporary solution.

The Isle of Lewis needs to be replaced to make sure that the capacity is availaIsle of Lewisble, and possibly that vessel can move to another route to give capacity and the trickle-down of vessel size can commence. Except that the vessels need to be designed for the particular routes and particular harbour configurations and there are restrictions on what can be done.

I have spoken to a number of people about this, and the best estimate for the capital cost of renewing the fleet to meet the impact of RET is around £75m, all of which is going to arise in a three-year period. That could be stretched, but only at the expense of services, and excludes the cost of replacing the Muirneag, which is already being factored into budgets for a few years hence.

The trouble is: the Scottish Government doesn't have that level of funding available at present and whoever wins the next Scottish elections won't be able to deliver the necessary ferry improvements without major cuts elsewhere. (Yes, this is largely due to the mismanagement of the economy by Gordon Brown, but the budget is still a budget.)

Unless we as a community put pressure on those who wish to be elected we coulCatamarand find the pseudo-RET pathfinder being abandoned due to financial constraints and that the service revert back to the previous situation. If we can apply the right pressure then perhaps we can get promises of full RET and a better ferry service from the political parties and see a huge improvement in the services too and from the islands.

I intend to vote for the candidate who can promise and deliver the best for the islands, of which ferry fares is a key component.


Anonymous said...

Hang on Angus. You were part of the Council that said that tourism was a false econmoy. 'Only 30 weeks a year'. A jobs only a proper one if it involves overalls and preferably a hard hat. I am sure you can recall the lines you and Angus Graham used to trot out with

The Council has done nothing for tourism - where is the Tourism Officer?- other than being an obstacle.

It is quite spectacular how out of touch the Council old and new are with the rest of the world.

Anonymous said...

It looks like John MacLeod is forming a party and, I suspect, will stand on a policy of:

- better ferry connections from South Uist to the mainland
- better transparency of local politics
- standing up to those pesky environmentalists that block everything
- providing more than the SNP and Labour did for the islands

Hang on ... that's ... (skims through your blog) are you John MacLeod in disguise? :-)

Anonymous said...

Where is the provision in the islands for all the motor homes we are currently seeing around? Have the council had the foresight to provide facilities or have they done their usual Ostrich impression?

As ever they have missed the proverbial boat, but still seem gunhoe on pushing giant metal triffids that will desecrate the land that tourists are flocking to see.

Anonymous said...

Every vote for a candidate who says they will "deliver" is a leap of faith. Unless Angus you expect to have insider info before you place your X, you will never be in a position to vote for someone who "promises and delivers".

Anonymous said...

The tourist numbers are definately not minimal, I've heard any amount of stories from local people who can't get on or off the island because they are full of motorhomes. The sad thing is most of these are providing nothing at all for the local economy with one even heard boasting they had spent the grand sum of £7 between the butt and Barra. Whilst RET has ensured cheaper travel for island residents (when they can get on the ferry!)it's benefits for tourism have been greatly exaggerted.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:29pm
I think the point is that we have nailed our prospects onto one pole i.e. the tourism sector and yet nothing is in place to ensure that it prospers. We have a knackered old ferry that is over-full at the best of times and no prospect of the situation getting any better. Why anyone wants to come over here for their holiday when we have a customer service level that beggars belief is anyone's guess.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:00am

Then it looks as if our current incumbents should take a long leap off a short pier then doesn't it.

Promises shouldn't be made unless they can be delivered.

Anonymous said...

Anon 2.07- complains about the large amount of motorhomes.
Anon 2.11 complains about the lack of tourist infrastucture.

Do you not think it is entirely because of the second complaint that causes the first? There is a link.

Such is the infrastructure here that it is a rational thing to use motorhomes. Not having to deal with shoddy customer service etc. Now local business will have to go out of their way to provide a decent customer service if they want to survive.

Anonymous said...

One of the former bosses of a firm which operates in the Uists was visiting recently after an absence of about 20 years.

He waxed lyrical about the various changes to the islands that he saw... houses, roads,piers, and the people. He then went on to say that 'the only thing that hasn't changed is the carpet in the Dark Island'

Trebbbles all round!

Anonymous said...

Moan, moan, moan! Many people on this island could do with getting off it a bit more and seeing how we compare to other places. We are so lucky to live here.

HIE, CNES should be piling money into building tourism infrastructure. Helping crofters develop camping facilities. A chain of waste disposal points for campers vans. Sorting out some of the derelict quarries and cuttings for camper access.

It is rubbish to suggest that all campers contribute nothing to the local economy. Camper van owners tend to be affluent and will happily part with cash. What would you prefer, that more local housing was turned over to accommodate visitors or that they didn't come at all?

However the lack of interest in developing this industry probably originates in the knowledge that both organisations have that it will not be here for too long.

Both having chosen to empower energy companies and their own Western Isles Development Trust over the interests of the community.

It is absolutely tragic that we have men with so little vision, no pride or faith in their community, at the helm. Maybe it says something about us as a community as well that we keep voting these people in.

windfarms are great said...

What is required for Stornoway is a ferry based at Ullapool leaving for Stornoway at the same time the Isle of Lewis leaves Stornoway. This gives the extra capacity and frequency and means the Muirneag can be sent off whence it came.
A ferry serving Lochboisdale and Mallaig will increase capacity and frequency for the Uists and allow a decent timetable to Barra from Oban.
Camper vans have the same right as anyone else to access to land although the landowners can decide on what overnight parking they wish to allow. These camper vans could just as easily tour the north of Scotland and ignore the islands.
At the last election one party was offering RET and as a result we have the current pilot and if we had gone one MSP from SNP to Labour we would have had a 40% discount limited to island residents. I will vote for the party that has delivered RET.

Anonymous said...

All very well going on about the need for access to the mainland and the various permutations of ferries and timetables.
However, the greatest economic benefit for island businesses has been the inter island trading that the wee ferries - which actually connect the islands together - have allowed to blossom.

Surely the high cost of inter island travel could be addressed without too much head scratching?

Anonymous said...

Capacity issues will still be a problem with ferries, especially if the current RET scheme becomes established permanently after the trial period. Last week during the festival week, passengers could not get onto the island from Ullapool on Monday, Tuesday and part of Friday when the MV Isle of Lewis broke down. Instead of spending millions on new ferries in future, it should be diverted into funding a tunnel link between Scalpay and Skye. The technology has been around for years and it must be the way forward.

Anonymous said...

Reality check ?

Anonymous said...

29 July just checked to try and get car onto ferry from Ullapool for this weekend. Full on Friday lunchtime as are both sailings Saturday and the only sailing Sunday.

More capacity required over weekends urgently I would suggest.