With less than half of Western Isles CalMac staff resident outside the island chain, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has called on the Scottish Government to ensure that jobs created for the islands are secured within the islands.
Valuable data regarding staff levels across the ferry company network was secured recently by the Comhairle and reveals that only 204 CalMac staff reside in the Outer Hebrides.
This is despite an estimate of between 350 and 455 staff being required at Outer Hebrides ports and on the ferries that serve the routes to and within the Outer Hebrides.

Cllr Roddie Mackay, Comhairle Leader, said: “I think that at a time when there have been serious questions around vessel deployment, ongoing issues with under capacity which have not been addressed and valid concerns around resilience and lack of vessels, it is right and proper that questions be asked about the location of staff and the need for much more local input into decision making.
“I would expect the Scottish Government in the spirit of “island proofing” and the context of community empowerment to support any such initiative.”
The local authority believes that CalMac are not recruiting and retaining enough staff locally to meet the operational requirements of many ports and ferries – and has delivered a three-point plan to change the current status quo.
If these jobs alone were to be recruited from the islands, it could have a hugely positive economic impact on the islands, growing population, benefitting local businesses, and increasing school rolls, said the local authority, which also pointed out that CalMac have a head office with 250 staff located at Gourock – not even a port on the ferry company’s network.
Supporting the Scottish Government’s stated purpose “to focus government and public services on creating a more successful country, with opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish, through increasing sustainable economic growth”, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar said that clearly CalMac as a company wholly owned by Scottish Ministers is failing in their duty to meet this purpose.
And that it is time for the Scottish Government and island elected Parliamentarians to ensure a fair dispersal of jobs to the islands served by CalMac.
Chairman of the Comhairle’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Cllr Uisdean Robertson, said: “To help out economy grow sustainably we need the right operation and investment choices to be taken on our ferry services.
“Instead we have seen £80million spent on the new MV Loch Seaforth and the port infrastructure at Stornoway and Ullapool to deliver a less frequent service than the general public had before when the freight ferry operated alongside the MV Isle of Lewis. This despite the local stakeholders calling for a two-ferry service on the route.”
He continued: “The ferry services that cross the Little Minch face the prospect of a spend of up to £100million on a single larger new ferry shared between the two routes and a resultant requirement for significant port investment to retain a service level little better than it was in 1964.
“A smaller investment would have delivered a dedicated vessel on each route and improved access to the Outer Hebrides from the Butt of Lewis to Eriskay.
“Lochboisdale needs a reliable dedicated ferry service that can be relied on to sail to timetable,” Cllr Robertson added.
“That the wrong choices are being made by CalMac and CMAL around vessel and harbour investments is concerning but it is perhaps little surprise when the management of both companies is so remote to the lifeline routes they are supposed to serve.”
The Outer Hebrides economy depends heavily on several outward looking sectors including tourism, aquaculture, seafood and agriculture. All of which are heavily reliant on ferries to ensure stability and a platform for growth. Capacity constraints and service disruption can have a serious impact on these sectors as has been seen network wide this Easter.
To move forward, the local authority detailed a three-point plan that they would now like CalMac and other agencies to consider and act upon –
1) In net terms CalMac progress to a situation where they will employ enough Western Isles residents equivalent to the number of FTE personnel required to deliver the operations to and within the Western Isles. This would be equivalent to the crew complements of MV Loch Seaforth, MV Isle of Lewis, MV Hebrides, MV Lord of the Isles, MV Loch Portain, MV Loch Alainn, and all shore based staff at the island ferry terminals.
2) As a step towards a fairer distribution of senior management all vacancies for such roles shall in the future be advertised on the basis of the main office base being on an island including the current vacancy for a Chief Executive of David MacBrayne Group Ltd.
3) That the practice of centralisation of roles to a Head Office will cease and future vacancies will be advertised on a network wide basis instead of Head Office with a target of 30% of these jobs being based in the Western Isles by 2030.
The Comhairle has held positive bilateral talks with the Leader of Orkney Islands Council which identified that privately owned Serco Northlink do locate a number of Head Office functions and roles within Orkney.
The principle of locating jobs that are created from island transport networks in the islands is one that Comhairle nan Eilean Siar will seek to work with other island councils on, with a view to seeing several public agencies – including Highlands and Islands Airports, CMAL, and Transport Scotland as well as CalMac Ferries Ltd – move forward towards a commitment of a fair distribution of jobs to each of the islands served by their networks.
Councils will seek to work together on this objective at future meetings of the Islands areas Strategic Group and the Convention of the Highlands and Islands, where Scottish Ministers have shown a commendable commitment to partnership working.