Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has welcomed a series of recommendations made by the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee on Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services.

In a letter to Michael Matheson, the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, the Committee stressed It is essential that lifeline ferry services deliver services that fully meet the needs of island communities, businesses and tourism.

On Monday in Stornoway, a breakfast meeting of business and agency leaders at Highlands and Islands Enterprise in James Street, heard criticism of the use of the phrase ‘lifeline’ services to describe the sea links.  No one refers to the A9 trunk road as a lifeline link to Inverness or Caithness and ferries are just the ‘roads to the Islands,’ it was stated.

The MSPs’ letter addresses the following points:

  • Investment strategy for the fleet, including making vessels and port infrastructure more accessible, flexible and achieving value for money. 
  • Road Equivalent Tariff (RET)
  • Current procurement and EU State Aid rules
  • Community engagement in procurement and investment decisions.

CnES says it contributed significantly to the Committee’s deliberations and the Chairman of Transportation and Infrastructure, Councillor Uisdean Robertson, said:

“These recommendations are broadly to be welcomed and reinforce the case that the Comhairle has been making in our own discussions with Scottish Government, CMAL, and CalMac.

“I particularly welcome the Committee’s recognition that recent consideration of The Islands (Scotland) Act highlighted the value and contribution our island communities make and that the Committee is aware of the vital importance of ferries as a lifeline service and a linchpin for the ongoing sustainability of island communities and economies.

“It is also of significant import that the Committee is seeking confirmation from the Scottish Government on whether it intends to complete an Islands Impact Assessment on this year’s budget.”

Meanwhile, Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan spoke in a Scottish Parliament debate on Wednesday (October 31st) on Scotland’s ferry services, highlighting local concerns about capacity.

Alasdair Allan MSP said: “Today’s debate was a useful opportunity to highlight the importance of ferry services to every aspect of island life and economy, and outline some of the issues that have caused concern to my constituents. 

 “Ferries in the Western Isles now have to cope with an astonishing 184,000 additional passengers a year, compared to a decade ago. Many routes now operate at capacity for half the year round.

“While this growth in traffic has undoubtedly been a good thing for the island economy, it’s appropriate for us to ask ourselves how the people of Paisley or Motherwell might react if they were told they had to book a fortnight in advance every time they wanted to get a bus to Glasgow.

 “The Scottish Government has shown its commitment in funding ferry services far beyond what previous Governments have provided. But, clearly, we need to do something soon to address real problems with capacity. 

“Now it is the time for all agencies to work together to reassure island communities about what shape this most vital of services will take in the future.”

A link to Alasdair Allan’s contribution can be found here –

https://www.scottishparliament.tv/meeting/debate-concern-over-the-state-of-scotlands-ferry-services-october-31-2018?clip_start=15:23:22&clip_end=15:27:34