Transport Minister’s letter to Michael Russell MSP reveals council’s double whammy on Craignure Passenger AccessPosted on March 11, 2012 by
Transport Minister, Keith Brown, has provided the clarification Argyll and Bute’s MSP, Michael Russell, had requested on where responsibility lies for the port at Craignure on the Isle of Mull.
Passenger access to ferries at the port has become dangerous and has required intervention by state owed west coast ferry operator, Caledonian MacBrayne.
Mr Brown makes it plain that Argyll and Bute Council own the port of Craignure, are its Statutory Harbour Authority and are unequivocally and solely responsible for maintaining it.
He also provided two facts which, when put together, display the depth of the council’s irresponsibility, fiscally and in terms of guarding public safety. We will come to this shortly.
Mr Brown compares the performance of Argyll and Bute Council, as a port owner, with that of CMAL, which owns 24 ports on the Clyde and Hebridean network. The council does not emerge well from the comparison.
The Transport Minister says of CMAL, the state owned infrastrctural provider of ports, harbours and boats: ‘All the money CMAL receives by way of harbour dues is reinvested back into these ports. Indeed, the harbour dues raised do not cover all of the cost of maintenance and have to be subsidised from other areas of the business and reserves in order to keep the lifeline ferry ports safe and operational. ‘
In contrast, while Argyll and Bute Council, as owner of Craignure Port, collects harbour dues from CalMac, it has not reinvested these in maintaining the port and its passenger access equipment.
Mfr Brown says: ‘As equipment (Ed: the passenger access equipment in particular
) comes to the end of its life, CMAL is not in a position to fund replacements and to provide them for free to a port which then receives the benefit of harbour dues paid by CalMac and, ultimately, the Scottish Government. It is right, therefore, that responsibility for the equipment should rest with the Port Owner/Authority who is in a position to fund replacements through harbour dues as is required under the Harbours Act 1964. Otherwise, the Port Owner/Authority should rent equipment from CMAL or’ should accept a commensurate reduction in harbour dues from CalMac.’
He goes on to outline the specifics of the situation:
‘With regards to Craignure, CMAL recognises the necessity to ensure that there is at least a temporary solution in place whilst a more permanent design is worked on and then procured. To this end, over £400k was recently invested from CMAL’s scarce reserves to ensure continuity of a passenger system. Since then further money has been, and continues to be, spent by CMAL in improving the reliability and maintenance of the Passenger Access System at Craignure. To date, the Port Owner, Argyll and Bute Council, have spent nothing on resolving this problem.’
This is the double whammy the council has been whacking unconscionably on the taxpayer.
The Transport Minister states publicly what we have known for some time from other sources – that the harbour dues Argyll and Bute Council annually collects from CalMac in respect of its use of Criagnure, amount to £1 million per annum.
The council has not reinvested any of these revenues in maintaining Craignure as any responsible port owner should do. Gaving neglected the facility to the point where accidents were happening, it sat on its hands while CMAL paid £400,000, then more and with more still to come – on making safe a port it does not own nor on which it earns any revenue. And every penny of this investment comes from the taxpayer.
The Transport Minister’s letter refers to the issue raised in the Draft Ferries Review, current.y in consultation, asking whether CMAL should own and manage all of the ports serving the Clyde and Hebridean ferry services.
In the meantime – and pending ongoing discussions which include Argyll and Bute Council, the Minister says:
‘…only Argyll and Bute Council have the statutory responsibility to take forward the replacement of a Passenger Access System at Craignure. In addition, given Argyll and Bute Council receive £1 m in revenue from CalMac from this port alone, only they are in a position to secure funding for a replacement PAS. I have asked my officials to go back to the Council to make my views clear. Notwithstanding that, I can assure you that both CMAL and Argyll and Bute Council are continuing to work on the design for a permanent replacement and it is recognised that such procurement will take 15 to 18 months. In the meantime, CMAL will continue to maintain and improve where possible the ‘temporary’ system. ‘
We understand that Mr Russell has written to the Council’s CEO, Sally Loudon, to request that she absorbs the very clear message in the Transport Minister’s letter. He says:
‘There is now no doubt that the Council is responsible and despite the preparatory work being done , which is acknowledged, there needs to be a clear commitment from the Council to get a permanent solution as soon as it can and to pay for it. There can be no further excuse for delay or evasion.’
Arguably the most glaring failure in the performance of the discredited Alliance-led administration of Argyll and Bute Council is the management and delivery of its transport and infrastructure department.
Councillor Duncan McIntyre, the council Spokesperson responsible, has got serious questions to answer for roads, for Oban airport, for flawed works at harbours and piers and for no work at all at Craignure.
What exactly has happened to the £1 million per annum harbour dues collected at Craignure?
Has it, or any of it, gone to paying the quite obscene £4.6 million spent on hiring consultants whose key function is to support what the council wants to do?