Canal boat firm all at sea over price increases

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The company providing cruiser boats on Scotland’s Lowland Canals, including in Falkirk district, has hit stormy waters.

Capercaillie Cruisers Ltd announced at the weekend that it would be pulling the plug on its operations at the end of the year, blaming a proposed increase in charges by Scottish Canals, who operate the waterways.

Bosses said the new pricing would see them running at a loss.

However, this week Scottish Canals said that prior to the charging review, Capercaille had twice approached them offering to sell their business.

Capercaillie has been providing narrowboat holidays on the Lowland Canals since 2003.

The present owners, Re-Union Canal Boats and Tim Ford, took over the business in 2009.

Its fleet includes Capercaillie owned boats and a franchise operation with ABC, Black Prince and Marine Cruises.

In 2013 it was named top tourism company at The Falkirk Herald Business Awards.

But this week Mr Ford, managing director, said it was left with little option but to abandon cruises on the Forth and Clyde and Union Canals and head south to do business in England and Wales.

He said: “The team are devastated, after all that has been achieved here.

“The charges Scottish Canals has proposed for 2018 can’t be sustained – we cannot operate under these terms.”

He stresses that this season will not be affected, and that everything advertised on the company’s website is valid.

Although no figures have been released by either party for commercial reasons, a spokesperson for Capercaillie said the proposed new charges, changes to leasing arrangements and restrictions on boat numbers at the Falkirk Wheel had “removed any confidence about growth and long-term sustainability”.

However, they added that the company was willing to listen to offers from those interested in taking over the boats and franchise agreements with partners.

A spokesperson for Scottish Canals said: “It is disappointing to hear that Capercaillie does not feel it has a future on Scotland’s canals. We have been in talks with the owners for some time and remain committed to ensuring that hire boats continue to operate on the Lowland Canals.

“Scottish Canals has long supported Capercaillie’s business, including transporting their first few boats from down south to Falkirk but despite our support, Capercaillie has not been as profitable as any of us would have liked. Furthermore, over the past few years Capercaillie has approached Scottish Canals on two separate occasions offering to sell us their business indicating that they have been thinking about exiting long before we began a widespread review of our charges.

“In 2016 we began reviewing the financial arrangements we had with all commercial operators across Scotland, including Capercaillie, and are in the process of successfully negotiating new agreements with the other operators.”