Comhairle Steps Up The Case For Fair Jobs Distribution

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar have called on the Scottish Government to work with the island area local authorities to ensure that jobs created for the islands are secured within the islands. 

Valuable data was secured recently from CalMac Ferries on staff levels across their network including within the Outer Hebrides.  These have revealed that only 204 CalMac staff reside in the Outer Hebrides.  This despite an estimate of between 350 and 455 staff being required at Outer Hebrides ports and on the ferries that serve the routes to and within the Outer Hebrides.  CalMac are not recruiting and retaining enough staff locally to meet the operational requirements of manning ports and ferries.  If these jobs alone were to be recruited from the Outer Hebrides this could have a hugely positive economic impact on the islands, growing population, benefitting local businesses and increasing school rolls.  In addition to this CalMac have a head office with 250 staff located at Gourock which is not even a port on their network.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar supports the Scottish Government’s stated purpose “to focus government and public services on creating a more successful country, with opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish, through increasing sustainable economic growth”. Clearly CalMac as a company wholly owned by Scottish Ministers is failing in their duty to meet this purpose and it is time for the Scottish Government and our elected Parliamentarians to ensure a fair dispersal of jobs to the islands served by CalMac.

With the Outer Hebrides GVA sitting at 66% of the UK average then there is a real need for Government to work with Community Planning Partners to support our economy in playing catch up. Ending the practice of public bodies taking jobs out of our economy would be a significant step forward that shows Government is committed to this purpose.

Positive bilateral talks with the Leader of Orkney Islands Council identified that privately-owned Serco Northlink do locate a number of Head Office functions and roles within Orkney.   The principle of locating jobs that are created from island transport networks in the islands is one that Comhairle nan Eilean Siar will seek to work with other island Councils on, with a view to seeing several public agencies including Highlands and Islands Airports, CMAL and Transport Scotland as well as CalMac Ferries Limited move forward towards a commitment of a fair distribution of jobs to each of the islands served by their networks. Councils will seek to work together on this objective at future meetings of the Island Areas Strategic Group and the Convention of the Highlands and Islands where Scottish Ministers have shown a commendable commitment to partnership working.

The Outer Hebrides economy depends heavily on several outward looking sectors including tourism, aquaculture, seafood and agriculture. All of which are heavily reliant on ferries to ensure stability and a platform for growth.  Capacity constraints and service disruption can have a serious impact on these sectors as has been seen network wide this Easter. 

Cllr Uisdean Robertson, Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said: "To help our economy grow sustainably we need the right operational and investment choices to be taken on our ferry services. Instead we have seen £80M spent on the new MV Loch Seaforth and the port infrastructure at Stornoway and Ullapool to deliver a less frequent service than the general public had before when the freight ferry operated alongside MV Isle of Lewis.  This despite the local stakeholders calling for a two-ferry service on the route.  The ferry services that cross the Little Minch face the prospect of a spend of up to £100M on a single larger new ferry shared between the two routes and a resultant requirement for significant port investment to retain a service level little better than it was in 1964.  A smaller investment would have delivered a dedicated vessel on each route and improved access to the Outer Hebrides from the Butt of Lewis to Eriskay. Lochboisdale needs a reliable dedicated ferry service that can be relied on to sail to timetable. That the wrong choices are being made by CalMac and CMAL around vessel and harbour investments is concerning but it is perhaps little surprise when the management of both companies is so remote to the lifeline routes they are supposed to serve."

The Comhairle supports the following initial 3-point plan that they would like CalMac and other agencies to consider and act upon. These are: 

  1. In net terms CalMac progress to a situation where they will employ enough Western Isles residents equivalent to the number of FTE personnel required to deliver the operations to and within the Western Isles. This would be equivalent to the crew complements of MV Loch Seaforth, MV Isle of Lewis, MV Hebrides, MV Lord of the Isles, MV Loch Portain, MV Loch Alainn and all shore based staff at the island ferry terminals.
  2. As a step towards a fairer distribution of senior management all vacancies for such roles shall in the future be advertised on the basis of the main office base being on an island including the current vacancy for a Chief Executive of David MacBrayne Group Limited. 
  3. That the practice of centralisation of roles to a Head Office will cease and future vacancies will be advertised on a network wide basis instead of Head Office with a target of 30% of these jobs being based in the Western Isles by 2030.

Comhairle Leader, Cllr Roddie Mackay, said: "I think that at a time when there have been serious questions around vessel deployment, ongoing issues with under capacity which have not been addressed and valid concerns around resilience and lack of vessels, it is right and proper that questions be asked about the location of staff and the need for much more local input into decision making. I would expect the Scottish Government in the spirit of 'island proofing' and the context of community empowerment to support any such initiative."