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Businesses in Uist must receive immediate compensation for the month-long loss of their ferry service for the second time this year, Labour is demanding.

Torcuil Crichton, the Labour candidate for Na h-Eileanan an Iar in the Westminster Parliament, renewed his calls for a support scheme to be set up to help businesses in Uist survive through the constant disruption caused by the failing CalMac ferry service.

The demand was made as CalMac confirmed they will withdrawn the Mv Lord of the Isles from the Lochboisdale to Mallaig service for the month of June to cover gaps elsewhere.

The move comes just six days after the vessel was restored to the South Uist service after an absence of more than a month. 

Mr Crichton said: “Businesses in the Hebrides will go under without a reliable ferry service. The SNP Government cannot deliver one so they should use the performance penalties they impose on CalMac to compensate island businesses for their losses.”

 “CalMac has had to pay £4.454 million in performance penalties in the last 20 months. That money should be used to set up a business support scheme along the lines established during the covid pandemic.”

Business losses are easily measurable compared to previous years, the islands are a distinct geographic location and the local council could administer the scheme, said Mr Crichton.  

He added: “This is happening at the worst time of year for businesses in Uist, many of which rely on seasonal visitors.”

“Islanders estimate South Uist is losing £50,000 of business income for every day without a ferry. That is in addition to the chaos and inconvenience caused by the cancellations at Lochboisdale and, worse, the immeasurable damage to peoples’ confidence about travelling to and living in the islands.”

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar raised the case for compensation in the Scottish parliament after talks with South Uist ferry users. The call was rejected by First Minister Humza Yousaf.

Mr Crichton called on the SNP Transport Secretary Kevin Stewart to rethink given the undertakings he gave to islanders at a recent meeting that South Uist would be a priority for him.

The Labour candidate said: “CalMac have a bad hand to play because of the state of the ferry fleet. If the demands of different island routes are set against each other Uist loses out without the vulnerability of the economy being taken into account.”

“SNP Transport Secretary Kevin Stewart simply has to turn that ship around, bring it back to Uist and bring it into harbour with a proper compensation scheme.”

In the Scottish Parliament today, Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant asked Scottish Government about compensation for affected businesses for the third time.

In the Holyrood chamber during questioning on depopulation, Mrs Grant told the minister for equalities, migration and refugees, Emma Roddick:

“Depopulation is caused by people finding it too difficult to live in rural and island communities. Ferry failures are a current driver for depopulation. The South Uist ferry is being cancelled again for most of June. This follows similar cancellations in April/May due to prolonged ferry withdrawal.

“Stòras Uibhist last year calculated that for each day of cancelled sailings Uist costs the local economy £46,285 a day. These Islands cannot afford to lose £3 million from their local economies in three months.

“This is criminal neglect. If businesses are not compensated, they will fold, further increasing depopulation. Will the Minister act and compensate businesses before it is too late?”

Ms Roddick described herself as “sympathetic” to the situation faced by islanders but said that is was an issue for the transport minister and told MSPs that depopulation would be tackled by the Scottish Government’s forthcoming strategy.

Mrs Grant said following the session: “Only the SNP Government would be sat saying ‘let’s wait and see what our strategy in six months says” in response to an ongoing crisis.

“It is not a mystery why depopulation is an escalating problem – it’s blindingly obvious – people cannot make a living in the islands without reliable transport links. Islanders are desperate and Scottish Government’s answer is to wait and see what a study shows? Walk down any street in the islands and someone will tell you what the problem is.

“Scottish Government needs to stop pontificating, treating islanders like they deserve a reduced services and actually treat this like the crisis it is. We need ferries; Cal Mac needs investment and in the meantime islanders need compensation for their lifeline services which are not currently supporting their lives.”

(Rhoda Grant's contribution was added since this article was first published.)

Read our earlier report here