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The Scottish Region Annual Dinner: 30 October 2014 - Roxburghe Hotel Edinburgh.

The Scottish Region 2014 Annual Dinner was held on Thursday 30 October 2014 in the Roxburghe Hotel, Edinburgh. The evening began with an introduction from the Scottish Region Vice Chairman, Ken Thomson, who welcomed members and guests to the Roxburghe Hotel, which he said was surrounded by history as many notable people had lived in Charlotte Square including Joseph Lister and Sir William Fettes. Earl Haig was born at number 24 and Alexander Graham Bell was born in a house just round the corner. Ken then thanked the companies who had contributed to the event for their support and highlighted the prize draw that was being held in aid of Transaid, the Institutes' transport Charity, then introduced the Regional Chairman, Mr. Keith Evans.

Keith, in his address thanked the guest speakers, Phil Preston and Tony Kenmuir for agreeing to speak and also the Dinner Planning Group for their efforts in arranging the Annual Dinner. He also thanked the Scottish Region Committee for their hard work over the year and especially John Yellowlees who works tirelessly to arrange meetings and events, resulting in a programme of wide ranging events.

George Brown then gave the Grace, after which the five course dinner was served. Once coffee had been served the Loyal Toast was given and a short break was taken. After the break, Ken Thomson highlighted some of the changes that had taken place in transport over the last 40 years and introduced the first guest speaker, Mr. Phil Preston, the Chief Operating Officer of Loganair Limited.

In his address, Phil said it was a privilege and a pleasure to be asked to give an address and outlined his background in the transport business. Starting off as a civil engineer for a marine consultancy, Phil moved to Oban when an office was opened there and was involved with piers and harbours for many of the islands. In those days some ferries were still side loading and some islands, such as Muck, Eigg and Rhum had no piers at all, passengers and goods being ferried to and from the shore in small boats.

In 1993 he joined Caledonian MacBrayne as their first Civil Engineer with responsibility for managing the property portfolio. There were major changes to the ferry industry following the Herald of Free Enterprise sinking and ships were modified with changes to bow doors. Ships are also required to have a fast rescue craft on board. Caledonian MacBrayne currently operates 29 ships serving the remote islands and these presented challenges for roll-on roll-off operation. In many cases, ferry services provide essential links to the mainland for islanders providing access and allowing goods to be delivered.

Re-structuring of the company also presented challenges and the company was split, with Caledonian Marine Assets Ltd owning the vessels and infrastructure and CalMac Ferries Ltd operating the vessels and using the piers under lease to provide the services. There was also the joint venture with the Royal Bank of Scotland to provide ferry services to Orkney and Shetland and this operated between 2002 and 2012 when Serco Group took over operation.

Caledonian Marine Assets Ltd. Is owned by the Scottish Ministers as is David MacBrayne, the parent company of CalMac Ferries Ltd, the operating subsidiary. The ferry services are subject to competitive tendering and CalMac Ferries will need to tender for the Clyde and Hebridean services again in 2016.

Turning to aviation, Phil joined Loganair in 2013 and he gave a brief outline of the history of the company. Serving the north of Scotland and the western Isles, Loganair was founded in 1962 as the air taxi service of the Logan Construction Company Ltd, operating a single Piper Aztec aircraft. In 1968 the company was bought by the Royal Bank of Scotland and in 1983 the British Midland Group acquired a controlling interest in the business. New routes were opened and jet aircraft acquired.

In 1997 a management buyout resulted in the company concentrating on services to the Highlands and Islands. The services are largely self funded with some publicly funded support for the Highlands and Islands airports. The Scottish Government Air Discount Scheme provides a 40% discount of eligible core air routes and three routes are provided under Scottish Government Public Service Obligations. Other routes receive PSO support from the local councils, without which these lifeline services would not be viable.

Loganair operated the shortest air route in the world, at just 2 minutes for a flight bewteen Westray and Papa Westray in the Orkney Islands and also operates the only scheduled service to land on a beach, this being on Barra in the western Isles. Loganair currently operates a fleet of 27 aircraft including 14 Saab 340's, 3 Saab 2000's and 6 Dornier 328's. There are also two Twin Otter aircraft and two Islanders aircraft in the fleet.

Turning to the future of transport, Phil said that for shipping tighter emission controls would have an effect, particularly with lower sulphur emissions and the hybrid ferries built on the Clyde were one solution. LNG powered ships is another but supply and delivery of LNG poses problems.

Aviation also faces challenges and Loganair operates turboprop aircraft. There are now only two manufacturers of such aircraft. The US regional market switched to jet aircraft resulting in a decline in demand for turboprop aircraft, but with rising fuel prices, the efficiency of turboprop aircraft means they are now back in favour. Another major issue is the lack of licensed engineers qualified to undertake aircraft maintenance.

Phil rounded off his address by pointing out that surface transport is important in connecting remote communities and Phil posed the question of how to sustain bus services in sparsely populated rural areas. He said it is essential to have a good transport network and that investment must continue, particularly with regard to the ferry network and the PSO routes that are under threat.

The second guest speaker was Mr. Tony Kenmuir, Director, Central Radio Taxis (Tollcross) Ltd, Edinburgh's leading taxi company, founded in 1968 by a group of 33 taxi drivers. Today, the company has 1300 drivers. Edinburgh has 1316 taxis today and the company has 467 taxis in its fleet. Some 4 million journeys are operated a year. The company is a co-operative with five directors elected by the members, along with a committee.

Tony told members and guests of some of the more humorous episodes he had experienced as a taxi driver then looked at the changes that have taken place affecting taxi operation in Edinburgh over the last 12 months. During that time a number of key taxi ranks have been closed and he highlighted that the company no longer has a presence at Edinburgh Airport, or at Haymarket station. At Waverley station, the taxi rank was closed for security reasons whilst redevelopment at at St. Andrews Square has led to removal of the taxi rank there.

Changes to the road network have also impacted on the taxi trade in Edinburgh city centre, especially with the closure of George Street. In Leith Walk the taxi rank was relocated during the tram works, but has still to be re-instated at it s original location. There has been a considerable reduction n rank space for taxis and Tony pointed out that taxis interact with all other forms of transport and provide the "glue" that cements a network together.

Another concern is the expansion of Uber, the online journey matching company that uses a mobile phone App to connect people with a vehicle. Although this is cheaper than existing taxis, Tony pointed out that the vehicles used are not licensed or are subject to the same inspections carried out by the council. Drivers are not trained and vetted in the way his drivers are.

Central Radio Taxis has major contracts with the NHS transporting patients, samples and specimens along with contracts for the Social Work department to transport children. All drivers are subject to the appropriate Disclosure Scotland checks. Central Radio Taxis also has contracts with many large companies and many of these require detailed analysis of costs and of carbon emissions to meet their CO2 reduction strategies. The company can provide such detailed breakdowns. The company operates on a 24 hour day, 365 days a year basis without subsidy and provides a flexible on demand service.

The after dinner speaker was Mr. Scott Glynn, who regaled the audience with numerous anecdotes and funny stories covering a wide range of topics.

The proceedings were drawn to a conclusion by the Vice Chairman, Ken Thomson who thanked the sponsors and prize draw donors, the speakers and the Roxburghe Hotel and their staff for making the evening so pleasurable. He thanked the members and guests for their support and concluded by wishing everyone a safe journey home.

The prize draw in aid of Transaid raised £1216.00

Report by John Fender.

 

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