Today, SNP MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Alasdair Allan, along with the Leader of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Cllr Paul Steele, and the Comhairle’s Transport Convener, Cllr Uisdean Robertson, met with the new Transport Minister to raise with him the devastating impact of CalMac’s decision to withdraw Lochboisdale’s ferry service for over five weeks.
Kevin Stewart MSP has been in the role of Transport Secretary for less than 24 hours, but has already met with Transport Scotland, CalMac and now the islands’ representatives to work to identify potential solutions to the current situation.
During the meeting, the Minister said he had made his concerns clear to CalMac yesterday and that he had requested that CalMac provide him with daily updates as well as weekly briefing meetings going forward. Mr Stewart said that he recognised the current situation is due to a lack of resilience in the network. As such, he would be reviewing progress on the vessels currently being built as a priority, as well as the main focus of getting the three vessels currently delayed in dry dock urgently back into service.
The Leader of the Comhairle stressed the need for resilience measures to be planned well in advance, and that there were plenty of other solutions which do not involve completely cutting Lochboisdale’s service in the coming weeks. The islands’ MSP highlighted the fact that Lochboisdale’s services are cancelled far more regularly than other routes, which is why businesses are already on their knees, while the Comhairle’s Transport Convener made the point that there was scope for CalMac to move their vessels around in a far better way than what is currently being proposed.
Following this afternoon’s meeting, Alasdair Allan commented:
“I appreciate the new Minister meeting with island representatives at short notice and for taking on board the key points made regarding the colossal impact CalMac’s service proposals will have on businesses and individuals in Uist.
“Islanders are justifiably furious to have this lifeline service withdrawn, just as some normality was resuming after the disruption caused by the Uig pier upgrade works and last month’s issues on the Sound of Harris. Something has clearly gone particularly badly wrong with this year’s dry dock schedule, and it is not right that South Uist should have to bear the brunt of yet another weeks-long period of zero ferry service. Uist cannot withstand this level of disruption, yet again, nor should it when other island routes elsewhere in the network are still functioning.”
Also speaking after the meeting, Cllr Paul Steele, Leader of the Comhairle said, “We were grateful to the Minister for his invitation to meet to discuss how we can find a better way forward to manage the delivery of lifeline ferry services where the fleet has been again stretched beyond breaking point as a result of the failure to deliver the annual maintenance programme to schedule. The Minister clearly understands the gravity of the situation and is picking up where his predecessor left off by looking to work with islanders and their representatives directly. This is encouraging and I feel in Kevin Stewart we have a Minister who we will work with very well.”
Cllr Uisdean Robertson, Chair of Transportation and Infrastructure added, “The meeting with the Minister was very productive and the Minister has now invited the Comhairle to submit our mitigation plan that will avoid the loss of service to Lochboisdale and ensures island economies across the network are considered in a more balanced way than Calmac’s usual go-to option of cancelling services to South Uist.”