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

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Not quite RET 'pilot project' to be 'extended'

I've had to rewrite this posting a number of times, and temper my disgust. I'm not sure I succeeded.

One cheer for the blatant electioneering that delivers nothing much, but the opportunity for the next Government (whoever they might be) to cancel the 'pilot'.

The fare reductions are A Good Thing. But, by themselves they achieve little of lasting benefit for the islands. It is only as part of a wider strategy that they will actually be of great and lasting benefit to the islands.

The failure of RET has been that the necessary infrastructure - bigger and more frequent ferries - aren't even on the horizon with CalMac having announced that they (for which read the Government) hasn't got the cash.

We have ferries that locals can't get onto; tourists who arrive at the ferry ports to find that last minute bookings are impossible; and, a change in the nature of the visitors, with more camper vans arriving. I've had hoteliers tell me that they are regularly 'full' until the visitors reach the port of departure and find they cannot get on the ferry. One 'full' hotel in Uist lost over half it's guests the night I was there, for that very reason.

The islands need to adapt, and that means new investment in new hotels and new facilities to meet the new demand, and the unmet demand that is sitting on the quay at Ullapool, Oban or Uig.

A one year extension doesn't deliver that, and no developer in their right mind will pump large sums into renovating, extending or adapting their hotel or guest house on the back of such a vague and weak promise.

By providing the capital for better ferries and more frequent services, the Government should see the economic regeneration of the islands, which can only be good for everyone, and will be a constructive use of taxpayers money.

If you drive across the new, wonderful, causeways in Uist, you have a beautiful dual carriageway that is straight, smooth and safe; if you ignore the bizarre single-lanes at the bridges. But at either end you still have single track with passing places.

The cheap ferries are the new causeways, and their effectiveness is largely destroyed by the constraints at either end, which in this case is ferry capacity at one end and structural developments at the other. The solution is in the politicians promises that were made many, many years ago.

Oh yes, and why is the Uist-Harris ferry excluded from RET?


Anonymous said...

I rarely agree with you Angus but on this one you are spot on.

Adapt and accept tourism. It can benefit the islands if it is thought out and sound infastructure is provided.

Anonymous said...

It is clear from this that the SNP are no longer governing in the interests of the country as a whole, but purely in the interests of those who vote for them. This is a dishonest and self-defeating way of conducting both politics and themselves. If this were a decision that affected the Central Belt and not the edges, there would be absolute and well-justified uproar.

How do they hope to convince those who live in, say, Orkney and Shetland that an independent nation would be to their advantage if they keep rewarding places like the Western Isles for their loyalty?

There is neither logic nor fairness in this decision. Neither is there a shred of morality.

Anonymous said...

Now hold on 6.21pm.

Shetland and Orkney have had first class reasonably priced ferries for a very long time, virtually nil cancellations and a healthy respect for the paying passenger, none of which can be said for Calmac's "service" the the Hebrides.

They also benefit from a 25% islander discount

Anonymous said...

Re - 7.44 pm

Think they've also been threatened with longer voyages (already 14 hours at times to Lerwick) and more irregular sailings from Aberdeen to Lerwick to pay for the opportunity for AB MacNeil to moan and whinge about the number of caravans etc cramming the Uist roads. (Ironically, a situation he and the SNP helped to encourage!)

Plus, for the interests of all, here's the prices without the 25% discount.

No doubt they might think it would be great to see a caravan heading North. Unlikely though with these charges!

PS - And how on earth do you define 'a healthy respect for the paying passenger'? Meaningless waffle, I would say. Think it's time instead that you tried to answer the question put forward earlier.

How are the SNP going to convince the Northern Isles etc of the case for independence when they discriminate in such a blatant way?

Anonymous said...

Yet more evidence of how sensitive and tactful this Government is ...

The specky potato said...

So an extension to RET is a bad idea, right?

Are my incredulous eyes deceiving me?

RET is a bribe, that’s it, nothing more and it will have no lasting benefits.

Bearing in mind the opinion polls at present, it would seem the government would have done itself no harm in making RET permanent – a much better bribe and at the same cost to an extension. After all its not going to be in government to have to worry about it in the long term. Or could it be that the SNP is a little more confident than the polls would have us think?

I fully accept that Calmac's fleet leaves a lot to be desired. Had you had to put up with the summer we have just had, with the loss of the Clansman for much of the peak season, you would be only too aware of the issues. I also accept that our roads and infrastructure are far from perfect. I know we do not have ample high quality facilities across the isles to cope with all these extra visitors. These were problems before RET, and resulted from poorly aimed investment by present and historic governments and councils. RET merely serves to highlight the issues, it did not create them.

There are certainly benefits to having RET, even on a temporary basis. Ask the hauliers, the majority of those in tourism and some of our small businesses. Ask those who can now travel to and from the mainland at more reasonable cost.

Take the hauliers, you will no doubt recall how they reduced their prices when the RET came in and their costs Neither did I. So there is one group who are working more profitably. You can bet that when RET goes, they will not be so remiss at adding the additional cost on though.

Visitors and the much maligned campervans... what benefit? Down here in the balmy south, folk have had the temerity to open their crofts and even propose setting up camping sites to accommodate them and heaven forfend, make money. These dashed tourist then go and tell their pals who come and jam up our ferries and fill our fields (and pockets) - no lasting benefit there then. Sure some hotels have issues, the same hotels have deposits and booking fees, not to mention more visitors stepping in to take bookings – I recently had a hotelier tell me how on more than one occasion a room was sold twice in a day due to a late cancellation – he did not blame RET.

And those of us with small businesses or wanting to buy or sell goods can actually do so at a lower price and be more economically viable. That feels like a benefit to me, but maybe I am wrong.

Lets not forget the greatest bane arising from RET, the need to plan ahead and book a ferry. Insurmountable that one! Once again, those of us living closer to the equator voyaging to the tropical paradise that is Oban, have always found it wise to book our ferries in peak season. With RET this period is a little extended, but it does not take a major change of behaviour to deal with it and in reality through much of the rest of the year it is no problem at all.

Has RET been good for the islands, the figures on ferry usage and tourism tell it all. While certain industries have done very well out of it , we have also had some minor inconveniences including the need to book our ferries.

So here is the measure of RET. Will islanders miss it if/when it is taken away? I have absolutely no doubt about the answer to that.

Apologies for the length on my first incredulous rant!

Anonymous said...

Why does our MSP say RET is bringing more visitors in his press releases and the exact opposite when it suits?

Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan last week backed the move after South Uist hospitality businesses reported a 30 per cent drop in trade compared with last summer.

The 'success' or RET is just political spin from a brown-noser.

Anonymous said...

Oh 2.46pm, stop being silly. I have yet to meet the person who argues for increased ferry fares, so if you really think agreeing with a reduction in ferry fares is brown nosing I feel sorry for you.

The South Uist (and Barra) hospitality industry is unhappy because after Clansman broke down the only people who could travel were those who had booked two months beforehand. This also enabled Phil Preston to aver that he was "coping with demand", which was patently not the case as the tourism figures for the summer verify. That has absolutely nothing to do with RET and everything to do with Calmac's inability to run their ferries more than 12 hours per day even to cover breakdowns.

FerryLouper said...

Here's a comment from this blog dated 2008-

Saturday, July 08, 2006
Shetland ferries

We often hear Labour crowing about how much subsidy Calmac receives from the Executive. Alasdair Morrison regularly adds revenue subsidy i.e. to support fares, to capital subsidy i.e. to build the boats, to come up with a wonderful figure. He claimed the subsidy for the entire operation was £20m in 2001, £27.9m in Dec 04 (Col 12673), whilst the BBC reported it was £15m in 2000. About £3m of that appears to be on the Gourock run in an attempt to drive Western ferries out of business – which is of course of great benefit to the Calmac directors, as they go to collect their fat salaries at Calmac’s Gourock HQ.

Now, we all know that Alasdair is starting to see the light (as an election looms) and modestly suggesting the extension of the Air Discount Scheme to ferries.

To put everything in perspective, it has just been announced that the Calmac run to Shetland is getting £31m per annum in subsidy, which is more than for the entire rest of the service covering the whole of the Western Isles. Indeed the service received £71m after it hit financial trouble. Trouble that is for everyone but the bank that leased the ships to Northlink, and made a killing q.v. train leasing.

We should be standing up and screaming for a proportionate level of support for these islands and aiming for RET on these routes. If Shetland can get it, when they have other ferry and air services, why are we being so modest in our ambitions?

Incidentally, the same BBC report has Alasdair Morrison refuting any suggestion of the Calmac services going out to tender.

Posted by Angus at 12:57 PM 0 comments Links to this post

Labels: Council, Politics, Scotland, Shetland

Anonymous said...

Re - Ferrylouper

You're hardly comparing like with like.

Shetland is nearer Bergen than Aberdeen. It takes a 12 hour voyage to reach there from the mainland. Shetland also contributes much more to the national coffers than the majority of places.

Besides, there is much more that is astounding about the current extension to - what was advertised as - a pilot scheme.

Surely Mr Stevenson's claim that they need more time to evaluate how well it worked is simply preposterous.

At this stage, what more can be learned about RET's effectiveness than has not already been in evidence? Has there been an evaluation of how effective it's been for the economy of the islands? (As one of your posters has already pointed out, even your MSP has sent out contradictory messages.) Has it been good value for money? What effect has it had on both local businesses and consumers?

This is a dishonest political fix. How would it have gone down in the Western Isles if, say, during his time as Transport Minister, Tavish Scott had announced that there was going to be an ADS scheme but only for Shetland? Or if the present Coalition governement were going to reduce fuel duty but only in Lib Dem held seats?

I suspect Hell would have no greater fury than a Hebridean scorned.

Ferrylouper said...

So you think the Minister should take the decision before the end of the trail period, and before the assessment is complete?

And because Shetland has oil money they deserve a bigger ferry subsidy?

Maybe if you lived on an island you would think a bit differently.

Anonymous said...

Re - Ferrylouper.

That has to be the silliest contribution I've ever read.

Surely the trial(sic) period has just about come to an end. If they were competent, they would have completed such a study long ago. After all, isn't that what a 'pilot study' means? An experiment which is kept under review for its effectiveness?

Why do you assume I do not live in an island?

Clearly, too, the ferries to the Western Isles have, by and large, considerably shorter journeys. They also do not require a large number of cabins, making the ferries to, say, Shetland of necessity far larger than their western isles counterparts.

The award of this 'extension' period is a clumsy attempt to practise the worst kind of pork-barrel politics. One can only hope that there are enough decent men and women in the Western Isles to see it for the dishonourable and immoral act it is!

PS - It might be interesting if the Lib Dems introduced their fuel duty scheme as a pilot scheme to the Inner Hebrides and the Northern Isles only. What's sauce for ...

Anonymous said...

Re Ferrylouper

I note that the Transport Minister has performed a major league U-turn on this - though it doesn't say much for his judgement that he made the same silly mistake twice.

What I find interesting is the fact that there are many local SNP members in the Western Isles who defended this unjust act, even to the extent of issuing a political statement attempting to justify it.

Ein Reich - Ein Volk - Ein ...

ferrylouper said...

Frankly I am completely uninterested in what politician may have performed what U-turn. Is that not what they do?
Either they "listen to the voters" or they perform a cynical U-turn.

Anyway, I'm not defending RET.
Or the SNP.
Actually I would have preferred an extension of the pre-existing Air Discount Scheme to ferries. I was very disappointed that the SNP chose RET, simply because I do not believe it is best use of taxpayers money.
Tourists will always pay to come to the islands, and we are never going to be a cheap destination. But islanders are not using ferries from choice, but out of necessity to access many of the things that you take for granted on the mainland.

As I say, I am not on this post to defend the SNP or RET.

But to suggest that somehow the Orkney and Shetland people are being hard done by is arrant nonsense. They have good prices, a very reliable service, and an islander discount (also usable by islanders living away) By comparison, fares to the outer isles were excessively high, and our service reliability in poor weather is still considerably inferior to that enjoyed by Orkney and Shetland.

I sincerely hope the Ferries Review is capable of devising a level playing field for all islanders, where fares and service are reasonable, transparent and fair. I also hope they decide to apply discounts to island residents, as this applies the finance to those it is meant to support, rather than well-heeled tourists. At least I hope that the prices enjoyed by locals under RET will be continued, albeit the tourist rates go back up. Bear in mind that the Outer Hebrides is one of the areas of lowest household incomes in Scotland. Parts of the Hebrides are officially designated "areas of multiple deprivation".
And finally, sorry I spelt trial as trail. I bet you never make typos when you're typing quickly.

Anonymous said...

Re Ferrylouper

At long last, light. I agree with much of what you say.

Any sensible person would have come to the conclusion that a form of ADS for ferries is the best and fairest way to proceed.

However, it should be noted that passengers, say, to Shetland (especially when they reach a certain age) have to obtain a cabin for their journey,adding to their cost.

It was also extremely ill-judged for the SNP to try and take money on one occasion from the transport budget of a particular set of islands and give it to another, especially when their main motivation was so obvious.

The short-term political advantage of Dr Allan.

But to try and do this twice...

One has to question the competence of the minister involved.