SNP MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Alasdair Allan, has spoken in Parliament of the need for support for businesses in South Uist which have been affected by repeated ferry cancellations.

Speaking in a debate in the Scottish Parliament this afternoon, Allan highlighted the detrimental impact of repeated, prolonged service cancellations on local businesses in South Uist, saying:

“Before the latest withdrawal of the Lochboisdale ferry service, businesses had approached me to say they were not convinced that they would survive this year as a direct result of these problems. The complete withdrawal of the islands’ vessel at the busiest time of year has turned a difficult situation into a critical one.”

The islands’ MSP also stressed the growing lack of passenger confidence in Lochboisdale’s service in particular, citing stark cancellation rates which saw only a quarter of scheduled sailings operating on the route during the ’21/22 winter period.

Allan went on to criticise the way in which CalMac’s decisions about vessel deployment currently fail to consider the economic impact on island residents and local businesses:

“Lifeline services should, in the first instance, serve island communities. Yet the focus on passenger numbers to the detriment of all other considerations is seeing CalMac drift from their core purpose. This is how we get a route prioritisation matrix - devised without any input from communities - stripping an island of its ferry for all of June.”

In April, CalMac initially announced a total withdrawal of South Uist’s ferry service for 6 weeks, but after pushback from representatives, the local community, and intervention from the former Transport Minister, this was delayed to avoid the Easter holidays, and a weekly service was reinstated.

However, only two days after MV Lord of the Isles returned to the route on the 29th May, islanders were told their service was being removed again, this time in its entirety, for almost the whole of June. The MSP for the Western Isles has made numerous representations to government ministers regarding the campaign in the community for a resilience fund for businesses suffering significant losses due to ferry disruption, most recently writing to Cabinet Secretary for Wellbeing Economy, Fair Work and Energy, Neil Gray, about the situation in South Uist specifically.

The Route Prioritisation Matrix used by CalMac to determine vessel deployment decisions during periods of disruption has increasingly come under the spotlight in recent weeks due to the situation with Lochboisdale’s ferry services at present. Both the First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Transport confirmed that CalMac had been asked to reassess this matrix, in consultation with communities, when Allan recently raised the issue with them in the chamber.



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