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Ministers under fire over ferry ‘chaos’ as CalMac boss removed from post

Opposition parties say there is “chaos” in Scotland’s ferry services after the chief executive of CalMac was removed from the post amid ongoing challenges with its fleet.

The company, which is the UK’s largest ferry operator, announced on Wednesday that Robbie Drummond is leaving the role with immediate effect.

Scottish Government ministers had been told last week that the state-owned company’s board was reviewing its senior leadership.

In recent years the ageing nature of CalMac’s ferry fleet has led to delays and disruption on its routes around the west coast of Scotland.

These problems have been compounded by ongoing delays to two ferries being built at Ferguson Marine in Port Glasgow.

Last week, the chief executive of the state-owned shipyard, David Tydeman, was sacked by its board.

Energy and Transport Committee##
David Tydeman was sacked as chief executive of Ferguson Marine last week (Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament)

The two ferries, which will ultimately serve routes in the west of Scotland with CalMac, are some six years late and will cost around three times the original price of £97 million.

Ministers are also due to make a decision this summer on awarding the ferry services contract for the west coast, something which would have a material impact on CalMac as a going concern.

Scottish Conservative transport spokesman Graham Simpson said Mr Drummond had been made a “scapegoat” and he called on Scottish Wellbeing Economy Secretary Mairi McAllan to provide answers.

He said: “Mairi McAllan – as the SNP minister responsible – is presiding over utter chaos in Scotland’s ferry network.

“Not a single ministerial resignation has been offered over this scandal yet now the head of both CalMac and Ferguson Marine have been fired in the space of two weeks.

“The minister needs to urgently explain – not least to betrayed islanders – what is going on here and why she believes sacking CalMac’s top boss is a good idea.”

Scottish Labour transport spokesman Alex Rowley said: “The chaos on CalMac services is a direct result of the SNP’s woeful mismanagement of Scotland’s ferry fleet.

First Minister’s Questions
Opposition MSPs have demanded answers from Mairi McAllan (Jane Barlow/PA)

“No matter who is in the top job in CalMac, islanders will continue to be let down until the SNP Government starts delivering the ferries we need.”

The Liberal Democrats made similar remarks, with MSP Willie Rennie saying: “Another week, another resignation – but still no SNP minister is carrying the can for the ferry chaos.”

On Wednesday last week, Ms McAllan answered MSPs’ questions about the situation at Ferguson Marine, but Mr Drummond’s position was not discussed.

Mr Drummond was previously managing director of CalMac before becoming its chief executive in October 2022.

Last year, Mr Drummond received a salary of £157,000 as well as £2,355 through the company-wide 1.5% bonus.

His departure was announced in a statement from the company on Wednesday.

It said the challenges experienced by island communities “are likely set to continue until new vessels are introduced to the fleet over the coming years”.

Duncan Mackison, former chief executive of CalMac’s holding company David MacBrayne Ltd, has been appointed interim boss until a permanent successor to Mr Drummond is found.

Ferguson Marine Shipyard
The ferries being built at Ferguson Marine are several years late and millions over budget (Jane Barlow/PA)

The Scottish Government said there are regular discussions with the chair of CalMac’s board about the company’s performance.

A spokesman said: “We thank Robbie Drummond for his contribution to CalMac and wish him well for the future.

“Decisions relating to the chief executive are for the chair to make, in consultation with the board.

“We welcome the chair’s decision to appoint an interim CEO immediately and his intention to recruit a permanent managing director who can take the business forward in the best interests of the communities that rely on it, and in a way that maximises the benefits of the significant investment we continue to make in ferry services.”

Holyrood’s Transport Committee also published a letter it received from Transport Secretary Fiona Hyslop, dated April 3.

It said: “I am writing to let you know that I have been advised by the board of David MacBrayne ltd that it has reviewed the executive leadership of the organisation to ensure that it is best placed to deliver in the years ahead.

“As part of that review, the board has removed Robbie Drummond from the position of CEO of CalMac Ferries ltd with immediate effect.”

A spokesman for the Rail, Maritime and Transport union said: “This is a concerning development for our CalMac members and only comes a week after the sacking of the head of publicly-owned Ferguson Marine.

“We cannot tolerate any more instability. The Cabinet Secretary for Transport must take this opportunity to announce an extension of the existing Clyde and Hebrides ferry service contract and directly award it to CalMac.”