Robbie Drummond's departure as chief executive of the troubled Scottish Government-controlled lifeline ferry operator CalMac has been described as "tokenism" by some user groups who are seeking more fundamental change before it is given an uncontested right to run services.

Ministers are carrying out further investigations over whether to give CalMac the contract for the beleaguered west coast ferry services and effectively close the door to opening routes up to private operators.

Industry insiders have been expecting CalMac to get a direct award when the current deal expires in September 2024.

On April 3, Robbie Drummond stepped down as chief executive of CalMac with "immediate effect" following a review of its executive leadership as it faces "challenging years ahead".

It was a decision that might have come as a surprise to user groups, but not to key industry insiders who made the Herald aware that it was expected.

One key insider told the Herald that when he heard there was an announcement on March 26 of the departure of a key person in the Scottish Government's web of ferry-related firms, it was Robbie Drummond that he actually thought was losing his job.

READ MORE: Ministers told to scrap CMAL to create ferries agency and keep CalMac

It was actually David Tydeman, the £205,000-a-year chief executive of the nationalised ferry fiasco firm Ferguson Marine that was sacked after telling ministers there would be further delays to two ferries being built at the Inverclyde yard.

Andrew Miller, the chairman of Ferguson Marine said it needed "strong leadership" to ensure its long-term future.

Ministers had expressed regular concern at increases in costs and delays in the chief executive's quarterly updates.

The insider said a week before Mr Drummond's departure that he thought he was on a "very shoogly peg" and was expecting him to be axed.

"Informed talk is that David Tydeman is not the only one to be looking for new opportunities, or spending more time with his family," he said.

The Herald: David Tydeman

"When I heard the announcement with talk of ferry fiasco and a terminated contract it wasn't Mr Tydeman I thought was given the chop, I thought it was Robbie.

"My thinking is that if CalMac is given the direct award, and the transport secretary Fiona Hyslop said that that would not mean status quo. That showed there had to be change.

"It could well be with Fiona Hyslop that she might have more ability to look at making changes for the future."

Ms Hyslop said any direct award should be a "catalyst for change" with a new management culture emerging, "one that is more supportive of the community's customers and passengers served by the network".

Transport Scotland officials have been examining how to make the award without leaving itself open to legal challenges through a breach of the UK's version of the state aid rules.

The Herald has revealed that some £6m of taxpayers'money has been spent by ministers into a series of consultants as they seek advice over the future of ferries, in a move described as "scandalous".

Private consultants Ernst and Young are the latest to benefit from the spend having been given a quarter of a million pounds for a new wave of advice over the future of lifeline island ferry services off the west coast of Scotland.

That comes on top of more than half a million pounds that was spent by ministers with the consultants between 2015 and 2022.

Ernst and Young was awarded its latest £250,000 contract at the start of the year to look into the legal and financial impacts of whether state-owned ferry operator CalMac can be given a new contract for the beleaguered west coast ferry services by "default" without going through a competitive tendering process.

The Herald:

The year-long contract, due to end in January, next year forms part of a due diligence over the Scottish Government's preferred option to directly award the next contract over the future of lifeline ferry services to CalMac.

CalMac's own community board has opposed a direct award of the contract after the current eight-year deal expires in September.

The Ferries Community Board, which formed as part of CalMac's franchise bid for the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Service to be the voice of the communities has said that to gain community support for a long term directly awarded contract, there would need to see "significant change in the structure organisation and culture of the management and operation of the ferry services".

Joe Reade, chairman of the Mull and Iona Ferry Committee said that Mr Drummond's departure was "tokenism" and did not feel it amounted to fundamental change in itself.

"Changing the person at the top can be a good way of changing things, but it is the structure underlying it that should change, how success is measured, where the control lies, who has the authority to make decisions. It was never about changing one individual. I don't think that anyone has ever said that Robbie Drummond is the source of all the problems. He is the source of some, but by no means all of them."

One of the key criticisms levelled at Mr Drummond's time in charge revolved around the review around how CalMac acts during ferry breakdowns as it copes with an ageing fleet.

A major protest was launched on South Uist last summer when it once again became the victim of cuts when ferry breakdowns and delays in annual maintenance meant that islanders lost their service for nearly the whole of June.

It had been drawing the short straw, because it was felt according to the way CalMac runs its lifeline service disruption management, that the least number of people will be affected if their allocated vessel, MV Lord of the Isles, is withdrawn to help out elsewhere.

An estimated 500 residents, 200 cars, 40 vans and 20 lorries converged on Lochboisdale – the port which links South Uist to the mainland – on June 4 to protest about the cancellations.

And after Scottish Government intervention, CalMac launched a review of the criteria which was subsequently changed.

A South Uist public meeting attended by some 250 "unanimously" lodged a vote of no confidence in the ferry company angry at the island's treatment while Mr Drummond was front and centre of what some called "PR visits" to the island to apologise profusely and try to explain the actions.

CalMac declined to comment.

A Scottish Government spokesman said about the departure of Robbie Drummond: “Ministers have been very clear that this was a matter for the CalMac board, as it is for them to take decisions on senior management appointments. Scottish ferry services need to be well run to meet the needs of the communities and businesses that depend on them. That requires the board of CalMac to ensure that the necessary management arrangements are in place to achieve that.”