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Christmas message from Martin Dorchester, Chief Executive Officer, David MacBrayne Ltd

It is that time of year when we turn our attention to family and friends in anticipation of the fun and relaxation of the festive season.

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And, for many of you, we know CalMac plays a significant part in making that happen as loved ones journey to and from the islands for the festivities - weather permitting, of course; as ever, we advise those who are travelling to keep any eye on our service updates online, on our app and on social media, and to watch the weather forecasts. Latest information is also fed through to media travel desks. We will always do our best to get you home safely!

We had some great news in 2016 - not least the announcement in May that we have retained the £900 million contract to run the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services for up to a further eight years. A phenomenal amount of our staff were involved to a greater or lesser extent in putting forward a competitive and innovative tender and we were delighted to emerge as the winner. The new contract began on October 1 and we are already honouring a number of our bid promises, and planning thoroughly for all others.

In addition to this, David MacBrayne Ltd formed a partnership named Solent Gateway with a logistics company called GBA Holdings; this new company won a £1 billion contract to run the Ministry of Defence's Marchwood Military Port on Southampton Water for 35 years and the keys were handed over on December 1. There is substantial commercial scope within this contract and we hope that profits from this venture can be reinvested within our company for the good of both customers and staff long into the future.

It has been important for us to keep looking forward in our quest to improve - and this has come in many forms.

Our two established modern apprenticeships have been joined this year by a new one - Hospitality with Maritime Enhancements; this is a UK first, developed by CalMac with City of Glasgow College and our first 10 trainees are already well-established on their new course. A further 10 trainees are undertaking our Deck and Engineering apprenticeships - four on engineering, six on the deck course. Some 90 per cent of young people who complete apprenticeships with us go on to be offered jobs with CalMac - this is something to be truly proud of and certainly helps to provide good job prospects within our communities.

Elsewhere in the business, the rollout of wifi across the whole network - a total of 53 ports, slips and offices, and 32 vessels - was completed; we know that there are still some connectivity issues and are exploring the best ways to address these. But this was, nonetheless, a huge job and has made a real difference to customers, as well as to the way we are able to communicate with our staff.

We were also proud to be named Living Wage Scottish Champion 2016 - the pledge we have made in signing up to the Living Wage Foundation's accreditation is a very important one to us and is a tangible commitment to our staff. Already CalMac pays 12 per cent above the Scottish average and has an enviable retention rate of 13.6 years for our employees. We employ some 1,500 people and provide career opportunities in some of Scotland's remotest, economically vulnerable areas. We take this seriously and believe it is only right that we give our staff the dignity of earning a respectable wage.

Perhaps the greatest change this year, though, was managing the first summer season with road equivalent tariff across the network, with some routes seeing an increase of 40 per cent. We are learning and adjusting, so, while there have undoubtedly been some challenges, overall there has been a phenomenal response from passengers.

Our Argyll Ferries service on the Gourock to Dunoon route has continued to play a community role in addition to its operational one - sponsoring a number of events this year, not least as headline supporter for Cowal Gathering's Gig at the Gathering.

We have, once again, had some fantastic support from customers and communities across the network, even during the most difficult of times, which we sincerely appreciate.

Our staff - our greatest asset - have, as ever, been a pleasure to work with and I am constantly proud and delighted by tales of them going that extra mile to help customers.

I thank them all very genuinely and it remains only for me to wish everyone a very peaceful and happy Christmas and all the best for a buoyant and prosperous 2017.

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