The announcement by CalMac Ferries Ltd that the MV Clansman is to return to dry-dock has been met with anger from the Uist Economic Taskforce. The result of the withdrawal of the Clansman will be the removal of any service from South Uist for the first half of June.
Speaking after the announcement, Chairman of the Uist Economic Taskforce Working Group, Cllr. Iain A. MacNeil said: "This is another in a long list of disappointing announcements from CalMac in relation to the Uist. It is particularly unacceptable that Calmac appear to take every opportunity to de prioritise services from Lochboisdale.
It is objectionable that the failures of management, planning and fleet investment within CalMac and Transport Scotland have to be borne by the people of Lochboisdale and South Uist.
Only last week Robbie Drummond was in Uist where he met with our MP, our MSP, six local councillors and representatives from the Uist Association of Community Councils. Despite detailed discussion about the Lochboisdale service, including plans for what may happen when the Clansman was to return to dry dock, during this discussion not once was the withdrawal of the service mentioned as a possibility. What was discussed was the need to engage with the community prior to any changes liable to cause disruption, and assurances were given that would happen.
In fact it was agreed that we would help produce a series of fleet and timetable scenarios that could come into effect should a vessel be withdrawn from any particular route. Less than a week later we find ourselves in a situation we had been assured would not happen again.
Mr Drummond has talked about learning lessons from the recent events, the removal of a service suggests that the curriculum isn’t fit for purpose and needs to be altered.
South Uist is one of the most vulnerable economic communities within the whole of the Highlands and Islands. It is therefore unacceptable that the community will lose the service at a critical time for visitors to Uist. Tourism is a growing sector of the local economy and this decision will have very direct impacts on many local businesses and local tourism operators. Given the Uist ferries fiasco over the Easter period this further disruption will simply undermine the confidence of visitors wishing to come to the Uists.
The Uist Economic Taskforce Working Group and I appreciate that there are that there are constraints within the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Service Contract and that CalMac are working with an ageing fleet.
Uist has been hearing this mantra for years. Unfortunately what we have not been hearing are alternative arrangements to ensure continuity of services in Lochboisdale. Nor have we been hearing any proposals from Transport Scotland or the Scottish Government to bring additional ferry capacity into service.
This highlights the need for a ferry summit in Uist, the sooner the better.
If we wish communities to flourish in places such as Lochboisdale and South Uist we need reliable, secure, dependable lifeline ferry services. We do not have that service at present."