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Local jobs, a voice that is heard and a service which goes above and beyond to serve communities is what CalMac’s chief executive wants for the next five years of Scotland’s biggest ferry contract, worth £900 million.
Martin Dorchester spoke to The Oban Times in depth for the first time since renewing the contract to run the ferry service throughout the west coast of Scotland.
He says his commitment to achieving what can be done in the shortest order can already be seen by the introduction of the Kerrera ferry to the CalMac fleet this summer.
While negotiations between Transport Scotland and Argyll and Bute Council for further services continue, including Jura, Lismore (passenger ferry), Easdale and Luing, the way in which local people are engaged with the ferry operator have never been more important, argues the company.
A community board is being set up by CalMac to ‘hear the voices of the communities from the rural West Coast and its islands’. The board of 12 people and one ‘chairman’ will meet twice a year and be separate from the board of CalMac but will inform it.
Mr Dorchester is confident about the future of the ferry service, and the way in which it can bring value to the communities it serves. He previously announced his resignation from the company but then reconsidered, saying at the time in the press ‘the government will be undertaking a review of Scottish ferry services’.
The review could remove the requirement to put ferry services out to tender. Other consequences may be the management structure of CalMac would change to accommodate the Scottish Government being not only the sole shareholder but also as the de facto employer and manager.
Mr Dorchester sees the staff of the company as its biggest asset, saying: ‘We want to make sure that we are beginning to grow the workforce that will be need in the future.
‘In the 10 years since the first time we tendered for the contract, we have steadily been growing our workforce. The jobs with CalMac are often well paid, with good terms and conditions, great career paths and it will remain that way.
‘What we will continue to do is create opportunities for local people wherever possible. That may be within the company or that may be something that we support in creating.
‘Take the music festivals we have – Oban Live, Tiree Music Festival, HebCelt, Bute Fest. They are all opportunities to grow a new market for our islands.
‘We have a funding programme, Vital Spark, that enables groups and individuals to apply for support in setting up something that will be the catalyst for a business or an opportunity for growth within our communities.’
Vital Spark has supported 23 early-stage social enterprises on the West Coast. ‘One of our questions,’ Mr Dorchester said, ‘is how do we work smarter with the community? Initially, what we can do is sit down with our island communities and find out what works for them.
‘At the moment we are being tasked with finding ways of providing wifi on all our routes and ports. In some areas, it is a hugely difficult problem but we will try to find a solution for the area because it will benefit all our customers.
‘We have regular meetings with the government and local authorities and are in good position to find solutions to concerns.
‘We can work together. If it is feasible to do something while considering the whole of the network then we will do our best to deliver.’