In an unprecedented move, Councillor Roddie Mackay, the leader of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, has appealed to the UK Government for direct action to sort out the transport crisis besetting the Hebrides, both on sea and in the air, and in particular, "the chaotic and unacceptable situation with our ferry service."
Councillor Mackay refers to Sir Peter Hendy’s Union Connectivity review, specifically with reference to ferries and air transport and the commitment to inclusivity and levelling up for all parts of the United Kingdom.
He says: "I am fully in agreement with Sir Peter when he states in his review that “The quality and availability of transport can support economic growth, levelling up and an improvement in quality of life”.
He adds:"I appreciate that ferry services are a devolved matter, but in the context of Union Connectivity and the levelling up agenda I believe there may be an important role here for the UK Government to help bring some new thinking and new urgency to a situation that is having a hugely detrimental impact on our community, on our economy and on our connectivity with the rest of the United Kingdom."
Councillor Mackay tells the UK Prime Minister: "Unfortunately, the critical lifeline transport links that our businesses and our communities depend on are presently under unprecedented stress and strain.
"Regarding our air services, Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) have a set of ill-founded and badly developed proposals to centralise air traffic control in Inverness. This will remove a significant number of technically skilled and well-paid jobs from one of our most economically challenged communities.ly damaging proposals.
"However, the most critical transport issue currently facing our islands, is the crisis which has enveloped our ferry services. The ferry operator Caledonian MacBrayne, the asset owner Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd, the Scottish Government’s transport agency Transport Scotland and the Scottish Government itself, all appear either incapable or unwilling to address the issue of systemic service failure.
"Through 2021 the ferry network has been in a period of unrelenting chaos with on-going infrastructure problems and severe carrying and freight capacity issues. There has been an absolute inability to consistently deliver a high quality ferry service for the people of the Outer Hebrides and
"Given the point of crisis we have reached I am wholly frustrated both at the lack of constructive engagement and the inability of the Scottish Government or its transport agency to deliver any form of sustainable solution. As Local Authority, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council) has suggested a series of deliverable practicable and pragmatic proposals to find a way forward, both in the short and the longer term.
"I think it is critical that geographically peripheral communities have an opportunity to engage in the UK’s strategic levelling up agenda and as such I welcome the Union Connectivity review and we shall seek to engage with it as the process moves forward."
Highlands and Islands Scottish Conservative MSP Donald Cameron said in reaction to the statement: “It’s no wonder that island community leaders like Councillor Mackay have lost confidence in the Scottish Government to tackle this crisis.
“However, we have to face the fact that the ferry service is a devolved matter and, no doubt, the same SNP politicians who have presided over this disaster would be the first people to complain if the UK Government intervened to sort out the mess.
“The buck rests firmly with Nicola Sturgeon and her government who have more than enough resources to provide an adequate service to our island communities.”