Located in the heart of Perth with enviable transport links to the rest of the country, CalMac’s regeneration of the city’s port has not only benefited the local region commercially, but has also set a precedent for future national opportunities.
CALEDONIAN MacBrayne is one of Scotland’s most evocative and easily identifiable businesses. Its ferries serving the west coast of the country provide vital services, keep communities alive and act as a magnet for tourists.
What is less known and appreciated is that CalMac is also a commercial port company, operating the port of Perth as well as 26 other facilities in the west. It offers commercial services and seeks to develop its activity in this field.
CalMac Ferries Ltd, whose parent company is David MacBrayne Ltd and is also wholly owned by Scottish ministers, has ambitious plans for the future, including the Perth facility, which now handles over 30,000 tonnes of freight per year. Before taking over management of the port in 2018 – it is still owned by Perth and Kinross Council – the port only handled around 10,000 tonnes a year. “We put in our bid for the contract that we would regenerate the port,” says Cameron MacPhail, Ports and Harbors Manager for CalMac. “It’s in the middle of a city and we wanted to bring it back to life, which we have.”
The company, which is 100% owned by the Scottish Government, is partnering the port with Invest in Perth, a consultancy division that supports business and growth, and another key player, Calport Limited. Organizations are all working together to support its growth.
What advantages can the port of Perth offer? “For starters, we are less than a mile from Broxburn roundabout on the outskirts of the city, which is the only one in Scotland that serves all seven cities,” says Mr MacPhail. This means, he adds, that the transport links are second to none. “We’re keen to look at sustainability and support a reduction in CO2 emissions, so that’s a plus for us. This means that instead of having, say, a shipment of animal feed coming in and unloading at competitors before being taken to Perth, it can be taken directly to the port. This reduces the number of articulated vehicles on the roads by around 50.”
CalMac aims to increase the Port’s visibility – “much of the industry ignores our central location, as well as local awareness, the asset still manages business operations” – as it believes this will be a key driver. “And it’s not just for commercial use. We try to look at all users, including those on the leisure side, and try to support local organizations such as charities, sea cadets, and sailing and canoe clubs.
CalMac carried out an economic impact assessment for the port and wider region last year and found it provides around £5.5million in economic support while supporting 54 jobs locally.
“We are looking at potential opportunities for the future,” says MacPhail. “We’re trying to move away from the traditional cargoes we’ve handled – mostly lumber – and looking at other things like soybeans, animal feed and aggregates.
“We talk to agents and freight owners. It would be fantastic to see our cargo double there again in the next couple of years. »
Perth Harbor can accommodate vessels up to 100 meters in length with a draft of 4.2 meters, although the river is currently dredged to remove sandbars. “We regenerate it for users. Another advantage we have is that ships can enter on one tide and exit on the next.
Cal Mac is also strengthening its relationship with the local community by presenting its Perth Harbor Community Fund awards in early April. These will support eight local groups in the region who use the port and its surroundings to promote health and well-being.
The company is also extremely active in its traditional operating area on the west coast of Scotland, where it is working to increase its vital ferry services by seeking business opportunities serving the islands.
“We looked at areas such as cruising. In 2019 – the last full year before the pandemic hit – we managed to increase our activity in this area to 178 ships.
“We have had visits to places such as Brodick on Arran and Largs in Ayrshire in the south to Port Ellen on Islay and Tarbert on Harris in the north.
“The average size of these has been 80 to 90 metres, but we are now seeing larger expedition vessels of perhaps 130 to 140 metres. The largest we dealt with was in Port Ellen, which was 220 meters.
Cal Mac is also looking to expand its cargo support business on the West Coast, where it operates a total of 26 ports. “This cargo may have been encountered on our ferries until now,” says Mr MacPhail, “but we are now looking at other opportunities.
“For example, at Brodick, one of our customers exports Arran aggregates. Instead of putting 20 or 30 trucks on regular shipping, we can run a coaster, pick up the cargo and ship it off the island.
Another industry sector that is being looked at by the company in the belief that it will provide business opportunities is the offshore renewable energy market. “There is activity around Islay and we are looking there to see if we can potentially support an operations and maintenance base in Port Ellen.
“We are exploring whether we can offer crew transfer vessel movements from some of our ports so that maintenance crews can come and go from the mainland.
“We are also looking at the possibility of operating contracts, taking on additional ports and ports across Scotland and the rest of the UK, to see what opportunities there might be to partner with owners of assets to operate the facilities and bring them up to speed. . And then there is also commercial growth.
All of this, says MacPhail, means there are exciting opportunities for CalMac to expand into its existing portfolio.
‘Although our shareholder is the Scottish Government, we are a business organisation, with an aspiration to expand our expertise and offering, assessing a wide range of available business opportunities.’