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Isles MP Angus MacNeil has described transport minister Jenny Gilruth MSP as ‘the best I have dealt with’ after a virtual summit meeting on ferry issues yesterday (Tuesday 24 May).

The Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP Angus MacNeil joined his Holyrood counterpart Alasdair Allan MSP to meet online with the Scottish Government’s latest transport minister for a discussion on transportation issues facing the Western Isles this summer. 

The island parliamentarians set out the challenges around Western Isles ferry services and made clear the concerns of island communities about capacity and reliability.

The meeting also extended to cover the affordability and capacity of aviation services to the islands, especially of the small plane to Barra, which is becoming increasingly congested with experience-seekers wanting a beach landing rather than lifeline transport.

Dr Allan said: “This was a useful and productive meeting. The minister’s recent visits and engagement with communities in Western Isles has left her with a clear understanding of the challenges we face. 

“We discussed the situation with the MV Lord of the Isles, CalMac’s booking policies, cancellation charges, the upcoming closure of Uig Harbour, the pressing need for more capacity on CalMac’s network, and capacity on the flights to Barra during the summer.

“These services aren’t a luxury for islanders: they are lifeline services which impact and affect virtually every facet of island life. We do need to see improvements and yesterday’s meeting was a good chance to make that case.”

Angus MacNeil added: “It was a very helpful meeting with Jenny Gilruth, who was very engaged with the issues. She listened to the suggestion of introducing booking windows on ferries and the wisdom of having those.

“She was also looking for further information on CalMac’s plans to introduce levies on cancelled ferry bookings. The idea of penalising people who make bookings and don’t travel will cause all sorts of problems for oil workers and many other people who have to change plans at short notice.

“She was listening on how full the Barra air services are, with people booking day trips to land on the beach. This is making our lifeline service into a bucket list service.

“Overall, I think it is heartening that we have a transport minister who is this engaged and is one of the best transport ministers I have dealt with.”