As readers will be aware, there was considerable surprise and disappointment when the Good Friday ferry turned back, hugging the Mull shore in a northwesterly blow and encountering Force 9 conditions. It would have been less surprising if the Hebridean Princess was not known to be making a good passage from Colonsay to Oban at the same time, pushing against the wind, but rather closer to the Garvellochs and encountering Force 7 conditions, which were also being observed in Colonsay. Soon afterwards, various unexplained problems arose, leading to an extremely sketchy and erratic ferry service for the rest of the month.
As can be imagined, Colonsay Community Council and many individuals became increasingly concerned, and the situation was not helped by a resolute refusal from CalMac management to make any meaningful communication. Eventually the issue reached the public press, whereupon CalMac management bruited the usual platitudes about weather, mechanical problems, need to make balanced decisions etc. They totally failed to address the nub of the situation – the role of management.
Everybody living in Colonsay lives in the real world – things go wrong! Machinery breaks, the weather gets rough, people fail to turn up for work, decisions made in good faith might be questionable in hindsight – this is the reality of life and Colonsay folk do not pretend to live in some special Shangri-la. On the other hand, this extended month-long disruption created a real crisis for Colonsay, yet senior management in CalMac seemed to have lost the plot. Instead of implementing simple crisis-management procedures, they were desperately hoping that everything would blow over and meantime issuing press statements covering a range of glittering awards. The awards were doubtless well-earned, but Colonsay needed (and deserved) a sensible and measured communication from senior management, explain what exactly was going wrong, what plans were afoot to correct it, and what was the timescale before the implantation of Plan B if correction was not possible.
It is time that CalMac caught up with management practice elsewhere. When things go wrong, face up the situation, admit the facts and say what steps are being taken. It is very strange to think that people who have evidently read the text-books have missed this crucial rule for the 21st century. The other rule – when things go wrong, it is not good practice to try to blame the consumer!