I was intending to follow up the theme of the last blog but the work on an alternative budget got in the way. This will appear here early next week.
In the meantime something else has arisen that I believe the public needs to know about. I was prompted this morning to write to Cllrs Dick Walsh and Ellen Morton after several totally frustrating weeks of trying to get some sense into the charges we levy at Dunoon Pier. I failed, of course. There is no need to say other than what was in today’s email. The email follows and this was copied to all councillors. I have had to insert the word BLANK below because the scandal I identified about BLANK has so far been kept secret by the council so I don’t wish to give them the opportunity to submit another complaint against me. The attachment referred to in the email can be found at the link below.
Dick and Ellen, my view is that your stance yesterday over the charges we levy at Dunoon for the ferry service was yet another sign of both corporate and personal failure. I am copying all councillors in because they need to know about this. Mind you, previous failures reported to my fellow councillors seem to have fallen on mostly deaf ears. Here’s a summary:
· We make a public commitment in 2013 to the consultants commissioned by the Scottish Government to assess the route’s viability, saying we will review the charging structure. http://www.transportscotland.gov.uk/report/j278759-00.htm Nothing is done.
· We are told in 2014 by the ferry action group that we are losing money hand over fist on the route and, in effect, handing the operator a hidden subsidy of about a quarter of a million pounds per annum. Nothing is done.
· I write to Ellen and the harbour board on 25 November asking that we treat the review of harbour charges at Dunoon as a matter of urgency. It’s urgent because our charges are far too low for a passenger service (ie we lose money and favour a passenger only service) and far too high for a vehicle and passenger service, (ie we deter vehicle and passenger bidders). I don’t get a reply.
· I write again on 14 December because the issue was raised at Dunoon Community Council. Ellen replies the next day saying the charges will be on the agenda for the harbour board yesterday. My hopes are raised.
· Officers, on 7 January, confirm the claim from 2014 (yes, almost 2 years later) that we are indeed losing money at Dunoon to the tune of £5,500 a week. This is £287k per year or £1.7m over the contract Argyll Ferries have. You would think this huge loss in itself would initiate an urgent review but not here.
· On the same day, I see the papers for yesterday’s meeting and they don’t remotely address the urgency of the Dunoon harbour charges. My email to the harbour board on 25 November has been ignored. What is proposed instead is a rather leisurely review of all charges despite the imminent tender of the Dunoon Gourock route. I prepare a paper on Wednesday and send it to Ellen (attached) and call her that evening. She tells me “senior officers” have advised her this tender is a Scottish Government one and not really a matter for us, ignoring the fact we’re the monopoly owner of the only port this side of the Clyde and one with a charging regime based on financial fantasy rather than fact. I get nowhere.
I attend yesterday’s meeting and explain as well as I can the above and attached. Dick doesn’t speak till near the end of the debate which you know means he wants to stick the knife in. (Dick represents the Dunoon ward in case anyone has forgotten.) Dick does stick the knife in, supports Ellen, and in so doing makes absurd claims about any additional charges we might make to Argyll Ferries being passed on to the paying public.
Ellen sticks to her guns and my request to treat the matter as urgent is kicked into touch.
Dick and Ellen, as I said to the other members of the harbour board, the measure of any organisation is how flexible it is to variation in demand. You have both demonstrated that you just don’t get this concept at all. That failure to be agile and responsive has been a feature of this council for far too long, possibly for as long as you have both played your parts in it. Is there a connection I wonder?
Before you release your budget proposals, which presumably will be based on the inadequate Service Choices process (Audit Scotland’s criticism of this process was something you forgot to mention Dick when you spoke at the seminar on Monday), these will no doubt heap damaging cut upon damaging cut as if to prove beyond all doubt that neither of you has any vision for Argyll & Bute.
And when we get your harmful budget proposals, we need to recall a few things about your financial track record:
· The Castle Toward fiasco that has cost this council’s reputation and which will have cost us £700k+ in security and other costs to keep empty, assuming it’s actually sold in March. You both played key roles in this debacle.
· The £1.2m that the BLANK has cost us when Ellen accepted a poor quality paper in 2011 that said the BLANK would produce “year on year” profits, with not a shred of evidence to back this up. When I wrote to all councillors on 3 January this year saying that the year on year profits were, in fact, year on year losses that will lead to a £1.2m waste of our money, guess who didn’t reply? The council leader and his depute didn’t reply.
· The £1.7m loss referred to above.
There are more examples than these but the 3 above total £3.6m. That’s a third of what we need to save in the next financial year. A quick trawl through your proposed job cuts from Service Choices to get to this figure of £3.6m also equates with about 140 job losses, mostly lower paid ones. I hope this way of looking at things is a useful reminder of the effects of waste.
You were both correct to say that the report in the Dunoon Observer today about harbour charges is further reputational damage to this council. But, inexplicably, you both blamed me for that even though the press release didn’t come from me but from the ferry action group. This council deserves today’s bad press because this council should have acted on harbour charges in 2013, 2014 and yesterday. That is serial failure.
You both chose instead to blame the messenger. Leadership?
Regards to all