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There was a top-level meeting today (Tuesday June 29) between the Leader of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Roddie Mackay, and Mr Michael Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in the UK Government.

In a media releases, CnES says the meeting was to discuss a range of issues around connectivity and the challenges facing the Western Isles and follows a letter directly from the Leader to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson appealing for support in the current ferries crisis.

Speaking after a two-hour meeting in Stornoway, Mr Mackay said: “We had a useful and productive meeting discussing issues around connectivity.

“I recently wrote to the Prime Minister outlining the challenges that the Islands face, and this was a follow-up to that correspondence.

“Mr Gove certainly recognized the importance of connectivity to the islands and discussed possible ways forward with the challenges we face.

“We discussed the potential of the Levelling Up Fund which covers local transport.

“We also discussed the Union Connectivity Review and the importance of decent transport links that sustain businesses, employment and social interaction for friends and family.

 “We agreed to continue to work together and to maintain an ongoing dialogue over the weeks and months ahead. We will continue to work with both the Scottish and UK Governments to promote the interests of our communities.”   

Managing the service is devolved to the Scottish Government, but Mr Mackay said earlier he was contacting Westminster because of Holyrood’s unwillingness to address “systemic service failure”.

In his letter, Councillor Mackay referred 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

"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 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.”

"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."