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TSSA Response to 'Scottish Ferry Services: Draft Plan for Consultation'

2 April 2012

1) Given the length of time which has passed since the start of the Scottish government's consultation about the future of Scottish ferry services, the 'Scottish Ferry Services: Draft Plan for Consultation' (December 2011) is a disappointingly evasive document.

 

2) The Scottish Ferries Review was set up by the Scottish government in late 2008. The originally envisaged timetable foresaw the final strategy document being completed and published by the summer of 2010. But even now – spring of 2012 – the publication of the final strategy document has been relegated to an undefined point in the future (albeit with the “aim” of publishing it some time before the end of 2012).

3) Despite the fact that nearly three and a half years have passed since the launch of the review, some of the most basic issues under consideration appear to have not yet been fully addressed by the Scottish Ferries Review Steering Group, (or, if they have been addressed, the findings have not been put into the public domain and subjected to public scrutiny).

4) Most obviously, the Draft Plan states at pages 4 and 9: “We will publish a separate policy statement on our future approach to ferries procurement.” A draft plan which fails to specify the intended approach to ferries procurement drastically reduces the scope for any meaningful input into the consultation process, given the obvious pivotal importance of ferries procurement for the overall provision of ferry services.

5) And the fact that there is no indication that the “separate policy statement” will be subject to any form of consultation – it is presumably no accident that it is described as a “policy statement” rather than a consultation document – reduces still further the scope for a meaningful exercise in consultation about such a key issue.

6) As early as January of this year the TSSA sought clarification from the Transport Scotland Ferries Unit of why the Draft Plan was silent on the Scottish government’s approach to ferries procurement: “… Could you clarify when that statement (on ferries procurement) is likely to be published, and why it was not possible to incorporate it (or at least its main lines of thought) in the above-mentioned consultation paper.” By the close of consultation on the Draft Plan, however, no response had been received.

7) There is a similar lack of clarity about how changes to ferry services will be timed and funded. The Draft Plan states at page 10: “The timing and funding of any changes is yet to be agreed. In the Final Ferries Plan we will provide more precise details about how we will prioritise each of the proposals to be taken forward.“ Similarly, the Draft Plan again states at page 21: “The exact timing of the proposals set out in the sections below will be subject to these financial constraints (set by the UK government’s Spending Review). … The timing and funding of any changes is yet to be agreed.”

8) Since the “more precise details” about the timing and funding of changes to ferry services will not be made known until the publication of the Final Ferries Review, those “more precise details” have effectively been removed from the sphere of public scrutiny and consultation.

9) One dimension of Scottish ferry services – and one of primary concern from a trade union perspective – which is entirely absent from the issues addressed by the Draft Plan is that of the role of the ferry services as a local employer, and the terms and conditions of employment of those who work for them.

10) Thus, while the introduction to the Draft Plan (page 1) rightly stresses issues such as how much communities pay for their services, the level and type of services provided, who bears the responsibility for those services, the accessibility of such services, etc., neither the introduction nor the substance of the Draft Plan give any consideration to what steps are required to ensure that possible future changes to ferry services are not at the expense of jobs and terms and conditions of employment (notwithstanding a passing reference to “maximising the opportunities for increased employment” at page 1 of the Draft Plan).

11) At earlier stages of the Ferries Review submissions from the Scottish TUC and our sister unions in Calmac have stressed the positive role played by CalMac in the local economy of the communities it serves: the direct and indirect provision of employment opportunities, the direct and indirect boost to incomes which it provides, the opportunities for training for new seafarers, and the relatively higher wages, career progression and better health and safety standards which it offers as compared with private ferry operators.

12) The absence in the Draft Plan of any commitment to maintaining the employment opportunities and terms and conditions of employment of those members of the communities currently working for the public sector ferry operator would suggest that if such matters are on the radar of the Scottish government at all, then only peripherally.

13) In fact, implicit in the Draft Plan is a willingness to see jobs and terms and conditions of employment ‘sacrificed’ in pursuit of attracting more private ferry operators to submit bids.

14) The Draft Plan states at page 8: “Many of these savings can be achieved as part of the tendering process, e.g. we can be less prescriptive when tendering, allowing tenderers to be innovative with the potential to reduce costs.” Similarly, the Draft Plan again states at page 10: “Greater dialogue with the market before tendering and a less prescriptive specification at the tender stage can result in ferry operators being more willing to bid to run the services. This approach will allow operators the flexibility to innovate and reduce costs where possible. Consultees agreed with this approach.”

15) But the most obvious area which operators will target for reduced costs will be rates of pay, and other terms and conditions of employment. Another area which would be likely to be adversely affected, in the name of “innovating and reducing costs”, would be health and safety standards (for employees and passengers alike). In reality, the Draft Plan’s ‘vision’ of more (private) ferry operators being attracted to submit bids to run ferry services is based on an invitation to those operators to attack the working conditions of the current workforce.

16) The Draft Plan’s claim that “consultees agreed with this approach” is less than credible. Potential bidders for tenders presumably did so, and some service-users may have done so as well. But feedback from the unions (and, presumably, from some service-users and local communities, given that CalMac staff are drawn predominantly from the communities served by the ferry services) was not supportive of such an approach. It is unclear why the Draft Plan has not only attached lesser importance to the latter feedback but also effectively blanked it out.

17) The TSSA sought clarification of this misrepresentation from the Transport Scotland Ferries Unit in January of this year: “Why have the opinions of consultees who do not support less prescriptive tendering been, so to speak, ‘blanked out’, and instead the impression given that (all) ‘consultees agreed with this approach’?” By the close of consultation on the Draft Plan, however, no response had been received.

18) It would not be unfair to describe the Draft Plan as the culmination of a Ferries Review which has dragged on for over three years and which has been consistently based on an agenda inimical to the interests of the CalMac workforce and the unions which represent that workforce:

 

- 2009: The stated remit of the Scottish Ferries Review included: “Consideration of state v private operators, creation of an environment that does not exclude new operators. … No constraints as a result of current practice. … The review will consider opening up routes to competition from commercial providers.”

- 2010: The “Scottish Ferries Review Consultation Document” asked loaded questions which pointed respondents in a particular direction when considering their answers: “Do you agree that we should test the market by tendering some routes on a single basis? … Do you agree that these routes (i.e. the five specified in the document) are the correct routes to consider tendering as single routes? … A simpler tender might be more likely to attract additional bidders, thus increasing the level of competition and driving down price; should we consider the implications of a looser tender … where the operator has flexibility to innovate and reduce costs where they see fit?”

- 2011: Although not directly part of the Scottish Ferries Review process itself, the Gourock-Dunoon tendering process provided an indication of what the upshot of the review could look like in practice: Port Manager position in Gourock scrapped; all outport clerk posts in Gourock and Dunoon scrapped; both nightworker posts in Gourock scrapped; all port assistant posts in Gourock scrapped; all posts on the ferries and all pierworker posts declared redundant (‘replaced’ by less staff on less hours and less pay).

- 2012: The Scottish government offers an opportunity for consultation about a Draft Plan which has nothing specific to say about the procurement of ferry services, the timing and funding of changes to ferry services, and the protection of the jobs and terms and conditions of the CalMac workforce.

19) Whatever the possible merits of the Draft Plan regarding matters such as accessibility and the environment, they cannot make up for the fact that nothing in the document indicates any commitment on the part of the Scottish government to protect the public-sector provision of ferry services in Scotland and to maintain the working conditions of their employees.

 

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