By Iain A MacLeod

In 2006 the Scottish government-owned ferry company, David MacBrayne Ltd, was split into two companies: Caledonian Marine Assets Ltd. (CMAL) that owns the vessels and infrastructure and Calmac Ferries Ltd that operates the ferries. This was done to conform to a EU directive that required competitive bidding for operation of ferry routes. In 2015, the private company Ferguson Marine Engineering Ltd was awarded a contract from CMAL to build 2 ferries. In 2019, before the vessels were complete, Fergusons went into liquidation and the company was taken over by the Scottish Government.

It is therefore opportune to assess the best way forward for providing vessels for the Scottish ferry service. Inspiration should be sought from how the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) is organised. The RNLI is a very successful organisation that does not depend on competition with other bodies to motivate it to provide an excellent service. By designing, building and maintaining all their rescue vessels, they are confident that they are better able to control quality and cost as compared with having the work done by external yards - more.

CMAL, like the RNLI, has a predictable need for replacement of vessels. It therefore makes sense for CMAL, Calmac Ferries and Ferguson Marine to be formed into a single organisation.

The Ferguson yard may not have sufficient capacity to satisfy all the boatbuilding requirements for the ferry system but it would serve as a special unit to contribute to a drive for continuous improvement in the procurement of vessels. Advantages of combining the operations would, if properly managed, include: improved quality, reduced cost, working to an integrated plan, continuity of employment and skills.

In the 2019 RNLI Annual Report, CEO, Mark Dowie, wrote:

“We are One Crew. We are all lifesavers and we are all fundraisers. Everyone is valuable and we are all working together towards a shared goal of saving as many people from drowning as possible.”

Adoption of a One Crew approach would be a key issue for an integrated system.

Rather than have a traditional backward-looking investigation to identify what went wrong with the contract with Ferguson Marine, it would be much better to adopt a forward-looking approach. A small independent task force should propose how the Ferguson facility should be integrated into the Scottish ferry system.

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