Leaving a lasting legacy

Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac) is the ferry operations part of its parent company David MacBrayne, one of Scotland’s largest logistics companies, and has for the last six years been led by its Chief Executive Officer, Martin Dorchester. “When I joined CalMac it was a company deeply ingrained in the fabric of the communities it served,” he begins. “While this is most definitely still the case, and what makes the company so special, it is now also a more innovative, adaptable business, and one that delivers services that our customers want, rather than what we think they need.”

Having led the above-mentioned development of the business, Martin will be moving on from CalMac in March 2018 in order to take up a new role as Chief Executive of Includem, a specialist Scottish charity supporting some of the most vulnerable young people, and their families, across Scotland.

As he approaches this latest milestone in his own career, Martin is able to reflect on some of the recent achievements he has helped usher in. “The biggest challenge for the business over the past 18 months was undoubtedly the process of successfully bidding to retain the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Service (CHFS) contract,” he states. “As part of our efforts we worked extremely hard to be awarded the opportunity to continue to transform ferry passengers’ experience of travelling across our 27 island and remote mainland locations, and to work closely with our partners to connect towns, cities and communities like never before.

“As part of our bid to retain the CHFS contract we committed to 350 service improvements to be delivered over the course of the contract, some of which have already been introduced. It was this promise, together with our demonstrated ability to provide innovative service improvements and value for money for customers, that saw us succeed in being awarded the contract. The result of this is that CalMac will be responsible for continuing to develop and improve service across the west coast of Scotland until at least 2024.”

The retaining of the CHFS contract would not have been hindered one bit by the fact that passenger numbers on CalMac’s services continue to grow strongly. “Arguably the biggest growth driver we have seen has come as a result of the completed roll out of Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) across all of our routes by the Scottish Government,” Martin says. “RET means that no ferry journey should cost more than it does to travel the same distance by road. The resultant reduction in fares has greatly contributed to more people using our services, with passenger numbers exceeding 5.3 million in 2017, an increase of 300,000 on the previous year.”

2017 also played host to CalMac taking on its first group of new hospitality Modern Apprentices. “This is the first time we have taken on apprentices specifically on the hospitality side of the business,” Martin adds. “A UK first, our MA in Hospitality with Marine Enhancements was developed in partnership with the City of Glasgow College. Although many elements of the hospitality industry, such as good customer service, are the same whether on land or afloat, our stewards need to do more than just look after our passengers’ comfort. What our MA does is add provide full training in fire-fighting, first aid, rescue boat operations and other tasks vital for keeping passengers safe.”

The coming months will also be a time for firsts, particularly when it comes to the addition of new vessels to CalMac’s fleet. “The recently launched MV Glen Sannox and her sister ship will be joining the fleet during 2018,” Martin reveals. “She is the UK’s first passenger ferry powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG) and was built in Port Glasgow by Ferguson Marine. She is designed to carry 1000 passengers, as well as 127 cars or 16 HGV’s. The use of LNG in maritime transport is a sign of our on-going commitment to exploring new fuel technologies for our ferries as a way of minimising the environmental impact we make through the delivery of lifeline services.”

CalMac’s responsible approach to its operations is what also saw it recognised in 2017 by the Scottish Council for Development and Industry in being awarded the Crown Estate Scotland Award for Excellence in a Marine Business. “This particular award came about after we approached Scottish Natural Heritage and Marine Scotland to see how we could assist in the capture of a range of environmental and scientific observational data on their behalf,” Martin explains. “With set year-round routes, we were ideally placed as a platform for the monitoring of the marine environment, and the partnership has since developed into a citizen science project using volunteers to gather data on-board.” In fact, it has been so successful that in 2018 CalMac will be employing a full-time Wildlife Officer to further enhance the conservation work that it is committed to.

“It has been an honour to work with my colleagues over the past six years,” Martin concludes. “Their commitment to customer care, and their above and beyond approach to getting the job done, never ceases to amaze me. For my part, I would like to think my time with the company has been a period of modernisation, one that will lay the foundations for even greater improvements to be made in enhancing our passengers’ experience of travelling with us in the years to come.”

Caledonian MacBrayne
The UK’s largest ferry operator
5.3 million passengers in 2017
First LNG passenger ferry to be delivered in 2018