Profits rise for Western Ferries as talk of Islay service return continues

Western Ferries is discussing with Transport Scotland operating a freight service to link Islay to the Ayrshire coast.

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Western Ferries (Clyde) Limited has reported a rise in pre-tax profits as it continues to weigh up plans for a potential return to serving the island of Islay.

In its latest full-year accounts, the company, which operates the Gourock to Dunoon car and passenger ferry service, saw its pre-tax profits increase from £2.3 million to £2.7 million. Revenue hit £8.5 million, up from £8.0 million for 2017/18, while operational expenses rose from £5.7 million to £5.8 million.

Western Ferries receives no government subsidy for the provision of this service.

According to Western Ferries’ accounts for the year ending March 31, 2019, the company provided almost 32,500 sailings but only cancelled 56 sailings, delivering a service reliability of almost 100 per cent.

Around 400 additional sailings were provided to meet peak demand, making it the highest level of frequency for any route in Scotland.

Meanwhile, Western Ferries continued to provide the blue light out-of-hours sailings to transfer emergency patients from Cowal to hospitals in Inverclyde and Glasgow, at no cost to the NHS.

Western Ferries puts its buoyant results down to the overall resilience of its services, the hard work and professionalism of the Western Ferries’ workforce – 90 per cent of which are Dunoon-based – and the fine weather during the summer of 2018.

Western Ferries also noted the favourable fuel efficiency of its new vessels – Sound of Soay, Sound of Seil, Sound of Shuna and Sound of Scarba – which makes them one of the most environmentally friendly operations in the country.

Managing director Gordon Ross said: ‘Once again we have delivered a near 100 per cent reliable service to our customers, by far the best in Scotland. We have continued the process of investing in new ferries and our terminals, which better ensure the resilience of Western Ferries’ service.

‘Our environmental record is also a source of great pride to the team at Western Ferries.’

The financial year saw the completion of the replacement second berth at its terminal at McInroy’s Point in Gourock, and a £3.5 million investment in the replacement second berth at Hunter’s Quay Dunoon was brought into service in August 2019.

Looking forward, Western Ferries has plans to upgrade its overnight berth in Kilmun, and is currently building a new head office at the Hunter’s Quay terminal. Western Ferries also hopes that the completion of the office will coincide with new shore, vessel and online ticketing, all to the benefit of its customers.

At the end of Western Ferries’ current programme of capital improvement, almost £30 million will have been reinvested back into the service over the past 12 years.

On Islay, Mr Ross said Western Ferries was continuing discussions with Transport Scotland in relation to potentially operating a dedicated freight service to link Islay to the Ayrshire coast.

‘Islay could be a big part of Western Ferries’ future plans going forward for 2020. However, further in-depth discussions with multiple partners will be required before any dedicated freight service can become a reality.’