Lifeline service ‘might have fewer sailings’

The access bridge would dominate one side of Kilcreggan's pier
The idea of pontoons for Kilcreggan pier has again been floated.

A campaign to have the Gourock to Kilcreggan ferry service given ‘lifeline’ status seems to have foundered.

Currently funded by Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT), the service was surrounded by controversy after Clydelink won the contract last year.

MSP Jackie Baillie led a campaign to have it designated a lifeline route so it could be taken over by Transport Scotland.

But this week it emerged that SPT and Argyll and Bute Council chiefs had met behind closed doors in Lochgilphead to oppose the move.

Robert MacIntyre, the council’s representative on SPT, told Cove and Kilcreggan community councillors that SPT chief executive Gordon Maclennan had met council leader Dick Walsh, marine operations manager Martin Gorringe and chief executive Sally Loudon last Thursday ‘and explained to them the consequences if it was a lifeline service’.

“They agreed that they would not ask for a lifeline service because they did not think the criteria were there for it,” he told last night’s meeting.

“I don’t think that we should go any further with this at the moment, we have had no complaints recently.

Robert MacIntyre says passenger numbers are up
Robert MacIntyre says passenger numbers are up

“The boat has been off less than the ones from Dunoon to Gourock,” he added – ironically today (Wednesday) the Kilcreggan service saw several cancelled sailings while the Argyll Flier was still in operation to Dunoon.

“There are 13 sailings a day currently and the actual passenger numbers are up, but if it was lifeline all the concession fares and the rest of it might not be given,” warned Cllr MacIntyre, adding that the council’s executive director of development and infrastructure Sandy Mactaggart had ‘said we should be careful because we could get fewer sailings’.

In fact the number of sailings has already been cut – in August 2012, within months of SPT awarding the contract.

Community councillor Derek Fowlis said the warnings amounted to ‘bully boy tactics, a general threat’, while secretary Murdo MacDonald said: “Just because it is a lifeline service, we would get less sailings?

“There is no logic in that at all. It is the contract which specifies the number of sailings, that is nothing to do with whether it’s a lifeline service or not.”

Cllr MacIntyre said only islands had designated lifeline services and the Dunoon to Gourock service funded by Transport Scotland was not lifeline.

This claim seems questionable however – in 2011 Cllr Walsh, who lives in Dunoon, said the link between his town and Gourock was a ‘lifeline service’, while Scottish Government publications online would seem to indicate it has this designation and David Wilson, Inverclyde’s member of SPT, said the route had lifeline status in a radio interview earlier this year.

Cllr MacIntyre added that Audit Commission investigations, Freedom of Information requests ‘and all the rest of it’ surrounding the Kilcreggan ferry had already cost SPT £41,000.

And Cllr George Freeman, who had asked for the audit reports, said: “We have moved on from when the contract was awarded. There is no threat to the service.

“The majority now are saying the service is running as good as it ever did. The problem will come when this contract comes to an end and the time comes to renew it.”

Community council chairman Nick Davies said: “Perhaps naively I thought if it was a lifeline service it would be better.

“I thought with the Scottish Government controlling it we would get a better service overall in this part of the Clyde.”

Cllr MacIntyre said SPT had funded most of the work carried out on the pier earlier this year – although a council statement at the time said SPT had contributed £27,000 towards the total cost of more than £200,000 – and again held out the possibility of better access for the disabled at Kilcreggan pier.

He said a feasibility study had been completed by SPT but without the co-operation of Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) at Gourock the scheme would be unlikely to go ahead.

In June 2012 a feasibility study for pontoons at Kilcreggan, Dunoon and Inverclyde was completed – it cost £19,961.21, with the Scottish Government paying half the cost and the rest being shared between SPT, Argyll Ferries, CMAL and Inverclyde and Argyll and Bute councils.

The study has been referred to several times by councillors and SPT officials but was only revealed on this website after a Freedom of Information battle lasting several months.

It stated that pontoons in Kilcreggan would cost £0.5m and £1.45m in Dunoon. The Gourock pontoons would cost £1.14m – but the Kempock Street Bay site is thought unsuitable unless £3.5m extra is spent on building a breakwater.

Both Mr Davies and Cllr MacIntyre expressed fears for the future of the summer-only Sunday service, which is contracted separately, and Cllr MacIntyre said he would give the community council notice in advance of this decision.

Mr Davies asked what had happened to the awning to protect passengers from the rain which had been promised as part of the Island Princess refit earlier this year, and Cllr Maurice Corry said he would contact Clydelink about this.

Full details of the pontoon feasibility study are available in these stories:


  1. Argyll and Bute Council by its decision has played into the hands of SPT with its mantra “Use it or lose it” with no backstop as a lifeline service if the threat becomes a reality. Under Freedom of Information requests I discovered that the Council had no system in place to effectively collect the pier dues, including passenger tariffs, relying solely upon Clydelink Limited sending a cheque for what it believed was owed (!) .It took two emails from myself (June 2012 and July 2013) via Councillor Corry who sits on the Audit Committee to bring about a proper system in capable of internal audit. The reconciliation based on sailings and publicly available passenger numbers duly discovered that some £18000 was still owing!! A cheque for £11000 paid over at an urgent meeting called by ABC with a further £7000 still outstanding. Why I mention this is the lack of confidence in our Councillors and indeed Argyll and Bute Council to act in our best interests. At the least one would have hoped that our representatives would have been robust in backing the lifeline claim before allowing the Council to succumb to the overtures of SPT which has gone on record that it did not wish to be responsible for the only ferry route under its control.

    Ferry users beware!!!

    • Well said Harry. Interesting to see what the answer about the awning is! And the back-up boat?????!

      • At the time that the contract was awarded SPT issued statements saying a back-up boat had been required and the provision of a suitable vessel had been ‘evidenced’. They soon had to admit that it wasn’t a contractual requirement (hence not actually a requirement at all) and after many months of those expensive FOI requests being rebuffed they admitted that they never had any evidence either.

  2. The main reason the complaints have decreased is a lack of confidence in elected officials having any influence over SPT. Of course the ferry has been running over recent months – it’s called summer – but half way through November and there have been 4 disrupted sailings already. There is no backup boat, no awning has appeared, we are still sitting on padded boxes, heating is still inadequate, and the boat which SPT are so adamant is suitable makes the gentlest swell feel as if you are white water rafting. Oh, and in the past few weeks two crew have left including a skipper. I think it is fair to say that ferry users are feeling very vulnerable.

  3. I agree wholeheartedly with ‘kerrg’,. Many have stopped complaining because concerns either fell on deaf ears or were totally ignored. As someone who had raised many complaints with SPT to no avail and then thought I was getting somewhere with The Ombudsman’ only to have my issues ‘Not Upheld’, you begin to lose the will to fight on! It sometimes feels that ‘right’ is only on the side of ‘might’.

  4. The Cardwell Bay and Greenock West Community Council have contacted Nicola Sturgeon, Transport Scotland, elected members and SPT.

    SPT did not have the courtesy to even respond. This will be followed up in due course.

    Regarding Cnclr Freeman’s point about the service not being under threat but not sure about renewal – that is the whole point. Whilst there may be no immediate threat to service, come the contract renewal SPT having run down the service will be minded to withdraw the route altogether.

    Without lifeline status, they will justify withdrawal on cost grounds only.

    If we are complacent now, we risk this service altogether. The fight to save this route must continue, rather than wait until it’s too late.

    • So some key dates:
      April 2012 new contract starts
      May 2012 council elections
      March 2017 contract ends
      May 2017 council elections
      Look at comments 18 months ago and now, then draw your own conclusions

  5. So the astonishingly pointless pontoon study reappears, presumably as some kind of dangling carrot. I said it was a load of poorly thought-out rubbish then and it still is now; any pontoons as described will end up smashed to matchwood, probably damaging the pier in the process, or swept from their moorings and washed into Donnie Bruce’s yard in the first storm that rolls through.
    I wish pain of a thousand screams on whoever invented the meaningless phrase ‘lifeline service’; no such thing exists and unless it’s defined in law would mean less than nothing to have it as a label on our ferry route. The sole arbiter of whether we have a ferry or not is the same as that which governs the Dunoon-Gourock pedestrian ferry; there is political will to support it and a holistic economic argument for it remaining, i.e. removing it would result in much more economic loss to the Cowal(or Rosneath peninsula) economy than would be gained by not subsidising the ferry service.
    I work away a lot and may have missed the comprehensive socio-economic survey team that passed through the area to assess what our ferry is actually worth on a balance sheet, but I suspect it’s because no such survey or assessment has ever been done; until it is done any expressions of joy on the part of SPT about how wonderful the cost savings are is just so much hot air.
    As for the schizophrenic SPT/ABC position; they don’t want to run this ferry service but they don’t want Transport Scotland to do it either. These yahoos draw a wage and presumably someone once recruited/voted for them; what exactly are we paying them for? If SPT had been more forthcoming when asked direct questions, then £41k would not have been wasted forcing them to reply to what were simple questions, although generally not given simple(or comprehensible) answers. My trust in Gordon Maclennan, Dick Walsh, and Sally Loudon looking after my interest in this matter is non-existent; however rubbish a ferry service run by Transport Scotland might be, at least they are somewhat more versed in running boats than the glorified bus company that is SPT and have deeper pockets.

    • Db, some of the longer term thinking behind the TS route was looking atwhat benefits could arise from TS tendering both routes. Would less sailings, but 7 days and much later be an improvement? I think so. The Dunoon route is very good, let down only by poor boat spec. Were a proper vessel specified, and some thought given to ending both contracts together and tendering both routes with a joint timetable, you could find a much better service all round.

      With a regular, 7 day and all day service, the Rosneath Peninsula becomes much more attractive for residents, commuters and tourists.

      As I`ve said here before, my partner and I wish to move, and right now, Rosneath is off the cards. A guaranteed future for the ferry with 2013 timetabling could tip the balance…

  6. Jamie – I agree
    The article does show that the councillor was being a bit misleading on the frequency of sailings – they were cut last year by the current contractor, on this councillor’s watch, and he said nothing that I’m aware of. The actual number of sailings isn’t the big issue though – timing is more important. Hardly anyone used the late morning and early afternoon runs as far as I can tell, but with better services at key times – especially a bit later on the evening – the ferry would be a lot more popular.

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