Thursday, 8 November 2012

Rathlin Ferry Saga and the Pensions Ombudsman 2

How secure are the Rathlin ferry TUPE undertakings?

Observers of the Rathlin ferry saga may have noted the following exchange in the Northern Ireland Assembly on Tuesday past:

Mr Storey: I thank the Minister for the part of his answer that related to the Rathlin ferry.  Obviously, it is important that that ferry continues to operate in a way that benefits, first and foremost, the people who live on the island, and, secondly, those who wish to visit.  Will he tell the House what information he has about an ongoing dispute between Rathlin Ferries Ltd and a pension company*?

Mr Speaker: The Member must finish his question.

Mr Storey: Has he had any discussions with Rathlin Ferries Ltd about that issue, given that it was in the ombudsman's report back in August 2012?

Mr Kennedy: I am grateful to the Member for his supplementary.  He will realise that this is a somewhat delicate matter and that I am not at liberty to go into substantial detail.  I understand that discussions are ongoing between my Department and the operators, and I hope that we can get the matter resolved.

* Rathlin Ferries Ltd is the Calmac subsidiary that operated the Ballycastle - Rathlin ferry service until the end of June 2008 - it still exists. As far as I know, Rathlin Island Ferry Ltd - Duedil company report [free registration] - is not in dispute with a pension company; it failed to put in place all of the TUPE agreement until after the RIFL crew member had died and it waited for 4 years before accepting responsibility. The Ombudsman's report, which was released on 1 August 2012, provides much of the detail.

The highlighted text in the Minister's reply raises several issues. If Stormont ministers were following the Westminster best practice they claim to be following, the Minister would be chairing the Departmental Board in the company of his senior civil servants and independent board members ie 'understanding' would not be the apt term. I've looked at recent Departmental Board minutes, minutes which have been truncated to little more than action points, and I've been unable to find anyone being delegated to act on the Ombudsman's August 1 deliberations, deliberations that ordered action within 21 days.

Ciaran O'Driscoll, a RIFL director, and Danny Kennedy, DRD minister 2011-

Conor Murphy, DRD minister 2007-2011

How long do these discussions have to take? I flagged up the problem in Has DRD 'Lost Control' of Rathlin Ferry Service? in November 2008:

Also, is it [Department for Regional Development] satisfied that the operator has adequate procedures and finance in place to provide for pensions, death in service benefits and redundancies as specified in TUPE communications between this operator and the previous one?

Would no action have been taken by the Minister and his department if the (London based) Pensions Ombudsman had not acted as he did? Senior civil servants have been intimately involved in this saga for well over four years yet they've failed to take their responsibilities seriously. The 21 day deadline has long since passed so why are the issues still just at the discussion stage?

Stephen Farry, DEL minister

Is there also a role for Stephen Farry, the Employment and Learning Minister [inc TUPE], to ensure that this matter is resolved rather than prolonged?

The Pensions Ombudsman’s determination and short reasons 

The complaint should be upheld against Rathlin Island Ferry Ltd because they failed to make appropriate arrangements when Mr McCurdy’s employment was TUPE transferred from Caledonian MacBrayne (Calmac) to Rathlin Island Ferry Ltd.

Added November 12


I wonder will this serious matter get a mention; I wonder if it's even on the agenda.**

Added November 16

CRD Q&A session on ferries begins 5 mins in Part 3. There were no 'deep dive' queries from MLAs about the Rathlin ferry service even though the disgraceful behaviour of the DRD and others re.TUPE implementation was flagged up to four committee members, two of whom asked questions during the session though not all may have been present.

Assembly Question to DRD minister: AQW 14568/11-15 
Tabled Date: 21/09/2012
Answered On Date: 03/10/2012

Daithí McKay: "To ask the Minister for Regional Development to detail how many visitors to Rathlin Island used the ferry service in each year from 2000/01 to date."

Minister: "... My Department does not hold the specific information on the number of journeys undertaken by Rathlin Island residents prior to 1 April 2008."

Has the Department lost the figures that were submitted by the former operator? Presumably such figures would have been used to calculate subsidy and to make a business case for contract renewal.

** It didn't and it wasn't: DRD Briefing on 14 November 2012