Connectivity MSP stuck in Hebrides after ferry summit
Inadequate service ‘killing communities’
The Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands got stuck in the Hebrides last night after attending a ferry summit. Many of the attendees at the Lionacleit event, including Paul Wheelhouse, were stranded when their Glasgow-bound flight was cancelled in stormy weather.
They had heard during the day how significant negative impacts of an inadequate ferry service is “slowly killing” communities in Uist and Benbecula.
On a day a gale forced widespread cancellations on island sea routes, key people involved in ferry services – including ferry minister Mr Wheelhouse and CalMac boss Robbie Drummond – attended the forum in Lionacleit organised by MSP Alasdair Allan after a season of chaos badly hit the Uist economy.
The Lochboisdale-Mallaig service was suspended for lengthy periods in the first half of the year when CalMac reassigned the MV Lord of the Isles to cover the Inner Hebrides following a vessel breakdown elsewhere in the fleet.
In addition and without warning, CalMac took away the Skye triangle regular ship MV Hebrides to cover the Tiree timetable at the busy Easter period.
Replacement vessel Hebridean Isle could not cope with demand.
Space on the service to Harris and Uist was unavailable to book for weeks.
Many travellers cancelled their trips to the islands, resulting in significant loss of bookings to hotels and B&Bs, while lorries delivering food and supplies were stranded.
Kevin Hobbs, chief executive of CMAL, which owns the infrastructure for the ferry services, said: “We are painfully aware people were let down badly.”
The ship-building delays caused CalMac a “huge problem”, leaving the overstretched ferry network without the “flexibility” provided by additional ships. If the ships had been delivered on time, this year’s chaos could have been avoided, he said.
Calls for a dedicated ferry for the Skye-Lochmaddy run were emphasised.
Currently, North Uist shares the MV Hebrides with Harris.
Malcolm Turner, development manager with Highlands and Islands Enterprise, warned the consequence of a deficient service is “slowly killing these islands” and “leading to depopulation”.
He stressed: “Without growing the ferry service, nothing is going to change.”
Mr Wheelhouse acknowledged there are concerns.
He said: “I am not ducking the challenges – I want to try and understand the situation.”
CalMac managing director Mr Drummond said: “It was a positive meeting.
“We look forward to continuing to work with all parties to deliver a ferry service which meets community needs and promotes sustainable economic growth in the islands we support.”
“Killing islands and leading to depopulation”