'Catastrophic' ferry cancellations 'worse than pandemic' for islands

A Holyrood debate has heard how a business owner dealing with ferry disruption said it was worse than the Covid lockdown.

‘Catastrophic’ ferry cancellations ‘worse than pandemic’ for South Uist STV News

Ferry cancellations have been “catastrophic” for South Uist, with one business owner saying it has had a bigger impact than the pandemic, an MSP has said.

On Wednesday, Holyrood debated Labour’s call for a compensation fund for South Uist islanders impacted by ferry cancellations.

Michael Marra’s motion said there should be a “resilience fund” to support business owners dealing with ferry disruption.

Demand for action has been increasing following CalMac’s cancellation of ferries between the mainland port in Mallaig and Lochboisdale, with local businesses estimating a loss of £50,000 per day due to tourism, and imports and exports being hit by the cut.

Humza Yousaf said at First Minister’s Questions last week that reimbursement for businesses is “not off the table”.

A third of South Uist’s population turned up to the ferry terminal earlier this month to protest against the service’s cancellation for most of June.

Speaking in favour of his motion on Wednesday, Mr Marra said the Government was responsible for a “catastrophic” failure which was “destroying livelihoods and communities”.

He said: “The idea of a resilience fund did not begin on these benches, it began in our island communities when residents of South Uist gathered in droves to protest the withdrawal of yet more ferry services.”

He added: “One business owner told us that the impact on her business was catastrophic and far exceeds the impact from the global pandemic.”

Mr Marra said the £4.5m incurred by Calmac in financial penalties, and paid to the Scottish Government, should be compensated to islanders to make up for the disruption they face.

The SNP amendment to Mr Marra’s motion removed the call for the resilience fund.

Transport Secretary Mairi McAllan said she acknowledged how important the issue is for island communities.

She said: “Following protests in South Uist, I will not prevaricate about the strain that is currently being felt in the network.

“Ongoing technical issues with vessels have resulted in delays to the annual overhaul programme and cancellations of sailings have been the result of that.”

She added: “I deeply regret that island communities’ needs have not always been met by Calmac services, that communication from them has not been always sufficient, it hasn’t always been timeous.”

The minister said the Government is determined to provide more vessels for the fleet.

The financial penalties imposed on Calmac have already been used to provide further resilience on the ferry network, she said.

Ms McAllan pointed to the recent move to charter the MV Alfred, which usually serves an Orkney route, to move to the west coast to alleviate pressure on Calmac’s services.

Business Minister Richard Lochhead also spoke during the debate at Holyrood and referred to Mr Yousaf’s earlier comments.

Discussing the calls for compensation, he said the Government “is listening and will act”.

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