A tendering process for subsidy to reinstate the service has not attracted any bids so we are now
I thank the minister for clarifying that matter. There is deep concern in Kintyre that despite the Scottish Executive offering £5 million in subsidy over the lifetime of the five-year contract for the route no ferry company has bid for it. I seek his assurance that every effort will continue to be made to talk to ferry companies, including Caledonian MacBrayne, to ascertain whether any interested parties are out there. I also seek an assurance that the contract on offer will be reconsidered if the current process fails, with a view to tendering again the future.
I share the concern that George Lyon has expressed to secure the service, to which we are committed. In that regard, because of the failure of bids coming forward, we have approached a number of shipping companies that we believe could conceivably run the service. We have inquired whether there are grounds on which we might be able to make that service happen with their support. It would not be appropriate to go into the names of those companies at this stage, but George Lyon should rest assured that every company that we believe is capable of running the service will be talked to about that matter.
Clearly, if the process fails, ministers would be required to look at what other process could be adopted in order to make the service happen. We want to explore every avenue and we will leave no stone unturned in the current tendering process and criteria to get that service in place.
On positive alternatives, is the minister aware of the success of Neil MacCormick MEP in convincing the European Commission to treat peninsulas in the same way as islands for the provision of additional public service obligations? If so, will he consider having additional routes from Campbeltown, not just to Ballycastle but to the central belt, using the same rationale that we have used in Cowal?
I confirm that we have talked to the European Commission and have won the case that mainland-to-mainland routes are acceptable for PSOs. That is something that my colleagues and I have been proud to carry forward. It has been important in allowing us to proceed with arrangements both on the Gourock to Dunoon and Tarbert to Portavadie routes. Our focus at this point has to be on the Campbeltown to Ballycastle service, as we have outlined. As I said to George Lyon, we will explore every option to deliver that service before we consider further alternative options.