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[NOTE: my apologies to all readers who don’t live in Scotland. Of course, I feel sorry for you. But I also feel bad that this post concerns local politics. Well, a little bad. Actually, not bad at all…]


 

“You’ll never have to worry about the ferries.” Oh, wait…

When we told them we were moving to Scotland, our friends sent umbrellas and daylight-range light bulbs. Our families sent pictures of unexpectedly haggis-flavoured items.

(Haggis ice cream. It’s a thing. Probably deep-fried.)

“But there’s one thing you will never have to worry about,” our estate agent told us when we were thinking about moving to Arran, a magical little island off the west coast of Scotland. “The Scottish government will never allow the ferry system to fail.”

They were wrong. Well, not about the umbrellas, and the jury is still out on the ice cream. But the ferries? Two months ago I was trying to get to the mainland for an urgent medical appointment and MRI. Despite a reservation as a walk-on passenger, and pleas on my behalf from the CalMac staff at Brodick Terminal, I was not allowed to board. System-wide, we see that ferry reliability is plunging, while  cancellations for technical reasons have steadily increased over the past decade. A task force is supposedly providing local input, but their meetings are closed, their actions secret, and their feedback nonexistent.

The Arran Ferry Action Group is a grassroots group which includes a majority of island residents plus concerned visitors. Formed in 2019, their goal is to offer local input and expertise in reforming Arran’s lifeline ferry service. Over the past few years, repeated requests to meet with the task force have been ignored and/or refused, most recently by Transport Minister Graeme Dey MSP.

I couldn’t make this up.

Over the past several months, attempts to share concerns about the upcoming upgrades to the Ardrossan terminal and resultant further impact on an already-reeling system have been met with months of silence. Repeated requests finally resulted in instructions to go through the local task force. One problem? Mr. Dey is the head of that task force. When this was pointed out to him, he told the group to go through “local channels”. One more problem? The local task force has no authority to invite participation from the Arran Ferry Action Group because… (wait for it) invitations can only be issued by the head of the task force—Transport Minister Graeme Dey MSP.

Trying to sit down with the Ferry Task Force is like being back in high school. Only now you have to pay £108.73 for NOT getting to sit at the cool kids’ table. 

These issues don’t just concern those who live on Arran. With an aging ferry fleet containing boats over forty years old, upgrades to this lifeline service are urgent. In addition, nobody is calculating the cost of incomes and businesses jeopardized and lost in island economies which can contribute over £600 million annually in Ayrshire & Arran (according to VisitScotland.org). Nobody is looking at hospitality and other industries which are not available to national and international tourists and investment because the transport infrastructure is fundamentally flawed. Nobody is measuring opportunities missed, lives interrupted, economic and personal losses suffered because our current ferry system is unreliable and its business model untenable.

It seems to me the real question is what we—and Scotland—are getting from the whole ferry infrastructure investment. Given the original boat contracts of £97 million (now expected to be at least triple that cost), infrastructure costs for failed new pier design at Brodick and (flawed) designs for Ardrossan, plus additional government pledges of £580 million, we are seeing rapidly diminishing rates of return. Almost £600 million spent with virtually no positive results? At current population estimates, that’s like the government of Scotland failing to provide the lifeline ferry service necessary for robust island economies, while instead sending every man, woman, and child in Scotland a bill for £108.73 for NOTHING.

[Image credit: Kieran Dodds, Gingers]

How can you help? It’s easy!

We urgently ask you to write to one (or all!) of your government representatives and request their help in getting the Arran Ferry Action Group an invitation to contribute to the task force and to the decision process.

Below is the message I’ve sent, and the links to the representatives I’ve sent it to. Please click on one or all names and send your own message or feel free to copy mine. The important thing is to let our voices be heard.


Dear _________

I am writing to voice concerns about Arran’s lifeline ferry service, and in particular regarding plans for Ardrossan Harbour, which is scheduled to close in Autumn 2022. Currently, there is no agreement with Peel Ports. There has been no tender process, and therefore no contractor has been appointed. There are no final designs for the shore side infrastructure.

Although they represent a majority of island residents, the Arran Ferry Action Group’s repeated requests to provide input to the Task Force over the past two and a half years have met with zero success. Despite multiple requests to meet with him, Transport Minister Graeme Dey MSP actually avoided the Arran Ferry Action Group on his recent trip to Arran. [Peaceful Pensioner Protest is Snubbed—Arran Banner, 24/09/2021] Since then Mr. Dey has advised the Arran Ferry Action Group to go through “local channels” to request a meeting with the Task Force—despite the fact that Mr. Dey heads up the Task Force and is thus the only one who can issue such invitations.

The next task force meeting is scheduled for 7 December. Your help is urgently needed to ensure that Arran’s vital needs and input won’t continue to be ignored. The Arran Ferry Action Group has valuable expertise, insight, and residents’ views to contribute. We’re counting on you to help ensure Arran voices are heard.

Thank you.

Barb Taub, Resident of Whiting Bay, Isle of Arran

https://arranferries.scot/

 


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