Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Rathlin Island Ferry Limited and the Reticent Minister

Danny Kennedy, the Minister for Regional Development, has just announced [July 7] the extension of the Rathlin Ferry contract yet the award was made on May 16. Why has there been such a delay?

“I congratulate Rathlin Island Ferry Limited on their successful bid" .. Minister

Was the contract extension advertised? There was just one bid:

“The local company has provided an excellent service to Islanders and visitors for over six years" .. Minister

This locally registered company, however, had to be pressurised to admit its responsibility for failing to make proper provision for a death in service benefit:

10. On 11 June 2012 Stewarts Solicitors belatedly told my office that there was no scheme in place at the time of Mr McCurdy’s death.  They accepted that Rathlin Island Ferry Ltd were liable for four times Mr McCurdy’s FPS, being a total sum of £101,668.  
However, they said:
”I regret that my clients are unable to discharge this sum at this time and my instructions are to raise discussions with the deceased’s solicitors in an effort to agree terms of payment." [Ombudsman's report 1 August 2012]

The company also got into other financial difficulties so DRD varied its clawback agreement:

RIFL's abbreviated accounts for the year ending 31 March 2012 refer to a variation to the DRD-RIFL contract which reduced the DRD clawback and returned £91,682 to the RIFL accounts for 2010/11 and an unspecified amount for 2011/12 which enabled the company to make a profit of £34,123.

The new annual subsidy is £800,000 whereas the previous one was about £660,000. No details on clawback arrangements are provided.

If the belated Ministerial press release followed a query from a concerned taxpayer then perhaps my reference on Facebook to the absence of AIS data for the Rathlin Express was also noted:

Within a few days the AIS system was back in action:

I also noted that the previously disappointing speeds of 13-14 kts had significantly improved to around 20 kts:

I received the following reply from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency [MCA] HQ when I queried the use of AIS when fitted to modern vessels:

I can also confirm that the ferries are required to have AIS in operation.

Has the local MCA office not been monitoring such a requirement?

RIFL directors have recently been awarded a contract to provide a ferry service between Torquay and Brixham by Torbay Council using a vessel similar to the Rathlin Express. This award was made using the open OJEU procedure [cf Rathlin - 'negotiated procedure without prior publication of a contract notice']

Added July 15

Old workhorse MV Canna transporting passengers and vehicles while the Rathlin Express catamaran is afflicted by mechanical break-down and the MV St Sorney doesn't appear to be doing relief duties. Did the higher speeds - around 20 kts in comparison to the earlier 13 kts - put too much stress on the catamaran's drive?