Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has today written to the First Minister asking that the Government places the future of lifeline ferry services as far up the priority list as possible.
In the joint letter, Comhairle Leader, Cllr Roddie Mackay and Chairman of Transportation and Infrastructure, Cllr Uisdean Robertson, said: “We realise that the country is coming through an unprecedented public health challenge but some bandwidth must be found to address the backlog in investment that particularly impacts on the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Service Network.
“Past decades have provided ample evidence that the decisions around ferry services cannot be competently made from Edinburgh, Glasgow or Inverclyde and that new ways need to be found to listen to islanders and allow us to inform the shape of our future ferry networks and not to impose solutions on us that have all too often proved ineffective. We must find a new model that allows island representatives an opportunity to provide support and insight to Government on ferry services embracing the principles of local governance with an enhanced role for islanders and island Local Authorities in the process.
“We are aware of direct examples of tourism businesses being impacted by booking cancellations as potential visitors increasingly lose confidence in being able to travel. Many businesses in the tourism and hospitality sectors were severely impacted by Covid-19 measures and it is unacceptable that these business cannot now return to normal trading due to the lack of performance on the ferry network. When you add the economic losses being generated by ferry impacts onto the losses accumulated through the pandemic it is highly likely that a number of our smaller businesses, in some of our most fragile communities, will simply not reopen and will cease trading.
“Impacts are not confined to the tourism sector, however. One of our key fishery processing businesses has lost a contract in France due to their inability to deliver product to market as a direct result of ferry reliability. The wider fisheries and aquaculture sectors report that the ferry debacle is having a significantly greater economic impact on their businesses and on their ability to trade than EU Exit.
“This situation has led to the unprecedented statement from CalMac’s own advisory board that ferry chaos on west coast services is causing significant economic damage and having a detrimental impact on individuals.
“We need to deliver rapid and effective solutions to move us beyond the present crisis situation. As a contribution to this, and to in an effort offer strategic direction for the lifeline ferry services that CalMac Ferries Ltd operate to our islands, we have suggested some specific short and medium term measures as part of a manifesto for change.
“We hope this letter and the points highlighted represent a constructive contribution that will help Ministers deliver the solutions that actually meet the needs of islanders rather than the preferences of civil servants and employees of arm’s length Government bodies whose solutions imposed on islands from the central belt have clearly failed islanders from Arran to Lewis. With this in mind I would suggest that a meeting with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar should be a priority for whichever Minister will be responsible for our ferry services and ask that this be arranged within days of that appointment being made.”