Comhairle nan Eilean Siar is disappointed at the handling of the extended closure of Uig Pier which will now remain closed for a further 10 days due to overruns with the critical works programme that have been blamed on poor weather throughout the planned 8-week closure period. The extended closure was only announced by Highland Council on 8 March when services were due to resume on 13 March. Rumours had circulated for over a week before this formal announcement, and it is disappointing that the communities affected by the closure were not considered the priority for communications at the point that a risk emerged that the closure would be extended. This leaves the operator Calmac having to manage customers displaced to other sailings and there is little evidence that thought has been given to increasing capacity from the service put in place for the closure despite the fact that Spring is upon us, and more people will be travelling.
With the extended closure period it is unacceptable to rely on arrangements put in place for the quietest part of the year. Calmac have the MV Arrow available on charter, but the vessel has barely sailed. To relieve pressure on MV Loch Seaforth and MV Hebrides Comhairle nan Eilean Siar have proposed a deployment solution that would see MV Arrow pressed into service to ensure adequate capacity to the Western Isles for this extended closure period.
This latest incident underlines how little regard is shown to the islanders who depend on ferry services by those agencies charged with responsibility for the services.
Commenting on this Cllr Uisdean Robertson, Chair of Transportation and Infrastructure at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar said,
‘The SNP Leadership election has seen some welcome comments from the three candidates that there is an acceptance that management of our ferry services from the central belt is leading to the disconnect we see all too clearly in the way those services are delivered when compared with what they need to do. The suggestion of bringing Calmac’s management to the islands is welcome. However, I would like to see a firm and unambiguous commitment from each candidate to change the way these lifeline services are governed with jobs dispersed to the islands for each agency – Calmac, CMAL and Transport Scotland. The location of Transport Scotland is absolutely in the First Minister’s gift and I would ask that a commitment to disperse every post involved in ferry services at that agency to an island base.’