Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan earlier today met virtually with Islands Minister Paul Wheelhouse MSP to discuss ferry services to the Western Isles.

Ferry travel to the Western Isles has been restricted since 22 March. Last week it was announced that CalMac will be moving from a winter-style timetable from 1 July to a ‘shoulder’ timetable over subsequent weeks, with an aim to match the expected return of tourism by July 15. Physical distancing measures will mean reduced capacity across the network and concerns have been raised over how that reduced capacity will be managed.

Alasdair Allan MSP said:

“Many jobs in the islands depend on tourism, so we all need to see the industry operating again here as soon as it is safe.

“At the same time however, people in the islands who have been in lockdown for four months have a legitimate concern to be sure that they can get a ferry ticket to see family members again, now that this is an accepted reason to use the ferry. This is an issue I have been raising this week with ministers.

“Today’s meeting with ferries minister Paul Wheelhouse was very useful and it became much clearer what the plans are for booking tickets going forward.

“While exact details are to be confirmed, at the end of this month, ferry tickets will only be booked out for either one or two weeks at a time. Which of these it is will be confirmed in the next couple of days. This will, I hope, prevent the ferry becoming booked out for weeks into the future, and will allow the situation to be reviewed regularly to ensure islanders are getting fair access to ferry services.

“20% of places on the ferry will be kept back so that they can be accessed on a “show and go” basis, which is most likely to of use to local residents.

“This is a changing picture, but with restrictions on ferry capacity being eased in coming weeks, I hope that we are now seeing a clearer picture of how the ferries will operate, and how a balance will be struck to ensure safety, maintain a lifeline service, and restart our local economy as soon as that is safe.”

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