Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan has written to Cabinet Secretaries Paul Wheelhouse and Michael Mathieson highlighting the recent interruption in the ferry service to the Isle of Barra.
Inclement weather and poor fleet resilience has meant that Barra has gone ten days with only one ferry run to Oban. The two main vessels suitable for the Oban – Castlebay route are in dry dock at the same time, with MV Isle of Lewis’s overhaul facing delays. Meanwhile, the two relief vessels, MV Hebridean Isles and MV Isle of Arran, have been struggling to cope with the exposed waters of the Sea of the Hebrides during a period of rough weather.
This has resulted in shops in Barra attempting to stock food via Eriskay, with perishables arriving days old. Other businesses, including seafood processors, are unable to ship fresh produce off the island on time. MV Hebrides was redeployed from the Tarbert – Uig route to Barra over the weekend to provide relief.
Alasdair Allan MSP has asked the Scottish Government what can be done to improve fleet resilience. He commented:
“This is an exasperating situation for the people and businesses of Barra. Barra’s seafood industry has had lorries stranded even before they encounter similar problems further south.
“The lack of resilience within the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Network is having real economic and human consequences. This situation is mirrored by last year, which saw several 5-day periods with no mainland ferry sailings.
“I have asked the Scottish Government what they can do to consider chartering an additional vessels or other measures that might relieve the current strain on the fleet. While Barra is worst effected at present, other ports such as Lochboisdale, and now Tarbert, are suffering from the lack of suitable vessels.”
Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan has praised the efforts of local fire crews tackling moorland blazes across the Western Isles.
Since Wednesday, services have responded to a high number of call-outs, often working through the night, to bring muirburn under control.
The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service has warned of an ‘extreme risk’ of wildfires on the West Coast due to sustained easterlies and sunny periods which have dried out the moorland.
Alasdair Allan MSP commented:
“The fire crews are to be praised for their efforts in helping protect life and property. Many individuals are volunteers, attending call-outs after a full day’s work only to be up all night fighting the blazes. Several of the fires have been of considerable size and in difficult to access areas.
“Fire crews, alongside the coastguard, have also been busy assisting with vaccination clinics. In the current pandemic, we should avoid any actions which may put our emergency services under any unnecessary pressure.
“I would urge people to refrain from undertaking muirburn under the present extreme conditions. With the forecast high winds, a controlled burn can easily get out of hand and turn into a fast-spreading wildfire.
Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan and MP Angus MacNeil have written to UK Government Fisheries Minister George Eustice MP to ask that he meets with island fishermen to hear first-hand about the crisis facing the industry.
The EU is an important export market for island produce, particularly seafood which is worth millions of pounds to the local economy. Since the UK left the EU single market and customs union on 1 January, exports have been disrupted by a range of regulatory issues and delays at the border.
These issues have heaped more pressure on fishing businesses already trying to cope with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Alasdair Allan MSP commented:
“The current crisis facing the fishing industry is really concerning. The last few weeks have seen prices collapse, produce left behind and vessels told not to go out to sea.
“The UK Government has labelled these issues as “teething problems.” The reality is that they are a direct consequence of the deal they struck with the EU – to the detriment of the fishing industry. While the announcement of a compensation scheme for seafood exporters is welcome, the level of funding will be a drop in the ocean compared to the damage done and it doesn’t remove the Brexit red tape exporters now have to face.
“UK Government Ministers should face up to the consequences of their actions and hear directly from fishermen in the Western Isles about what has happened in the last few weeks.”
Angus MacNeil MP commented:
"This is a problem of Westminster and the Brexiteers' making and it is for Westminster and the Brexiteers to sort."
Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan has welcomed the news that NHS Western Isles is now well underway with vaccinations for over 80s.
If you are in this category and have not yet attended an appointment, you should arrange a vaccination appointment by calling 0808 196 8383. Alternatively, a friend of relative can arrange an appointment on your behalf.
The vaccine roll-out comes amidst an increased community response to the viral outbreak in the Isle of Barra. At a meeting of the Barra & Vatersay COVID-19 Forum on Monday, 18 January, the collective efforts of the community and public sector workers were commended. Most members of the community are now voluntarily adhering to Level 4 restriction guidance.
Alasdair Allan MSP commented:
“The COVID-19 vaccination programme is going well in the Western Isles. This is paired with the expansion of testing, including asymptomatic testing, for Barra residents.”
“In the Western Isles, the number of first doses given to health workers and those most vulnerable to the virus is now into the thousands. As the programme gathers pace, I would like to extend my sincere thanks to all those who are working late and long hours, and going above and beyond, to achieve this response.”
Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan has voiced his concern at the growing COVID-19 outbreak in Barra and Vatersay.
10 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed over the course of this week, with 2 islanders requiring treatment in hospital and a significant number of people identified as close contacts having to self-isolate.
The islands MSP this morning attended a meeting about the outbreak with NHS Western Isles, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and community organisations and representatives in Barra.
Alasdair Allan commented:
“The outbreak in Barra is really concerning and highlights how quickly the virus can gain hold. With ten confirmed cases and many dozens more self-isolating, this represents a huge impact on the island.
“While it’s obviously a very worrying time, I hope that people can draw strength from the exceptional community response and the knowledge that dedicated people in the NHS and elsewhere are working hard to help deal with the cluster. It is particularly welcome that testing has been expanded to include asymptomatic close contacts.
“Non-essential travel is prohibited and I understand from Police Scotland that they have been carrying out periodic checks on ferry queues on both sides of the Minch, and particularly for Barra.
Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan earlier today raised the need for additional support for businesses in the Western Isles in conversations with the First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Finance Kate Forbes MSP.
Mainland Scotland is currently at Covid Protection Level 4, the most restrictive level, while the Western Isles, Orkney, Shetland and island communities without a road link to the mainland are at Level 3.
Additional support has been made available to businesses on the mainland required to close in line with Level 4 lockdown restrictions. However, the islands MSP has been contacted by a number of businesses who have been seriously impacted by the lockdown on mainland Scotland and who also need access to additional support.
Alasdair Allan commented:
“Over the last week, I have been contacted by a variety of businesses who have seen their customer base disappear or their ability to trade curtailed due to the mainland lockdown restrictions. However, because we are at a different protection level, they do not have access to the same support as mainland businesses. It’s great that the islands have been able to avoid a return to lockdown, but businesses shouldn’t be in a position of being disadvantaged because of that.
“I have raised this issue with the Scottish Government. This is something that is being actively working on and I am hopeful that a solution will be forthcoming soon.”