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As feelings of crisis reach boiling-point across the community about the struggling ferry services, MSP Alasdair Allan intervened in the Transport Minister’s statement in the Scottish Parliament yesterday (Wednesday March 23) to make the point that CalMac and CMAL might be more responsive to communities as organisations if any of their board members actually had to use these ferry services.

And it is now known that the Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth is due to visit the Western Isles next month at Alasdair Allan’s invitation to meet with community representatives and discuss the ferry network.

Meanwhile Finance Secretary Kate Forbes confirmed that a two-vessel service for the Uig triangle was again being considered. 

Meanwhile, Highlands and Islands MSP Donald Cameron has said that the ferry crisis is now so serious that it risks becoming a “driver of depopulation” in Scotland’s island communities.

Mr Cameron cited examples from his own region of the devastating impact of the chronic unreliability of the ageing ferry fleet.

Speaking after the Scottish Parliament debate he said: “The reason this issue is so serious is that islanders are themselves now fearful for the future of their communities, and the loss of younger people who simply cannot do without a reliable ferry service.

“Warnings about the ageing fleet, and the need for replacement vessels, have for years been ignored by SNP ministers until it was too late.

“In recent days, three out of the four ferry routes to Mull were not operating, while the fourth was unable to take commercial traffic.

"Meanwhile, it's been estimated that secondary school students from Iona have lost 30% of their education due to ferry cancellations.

“There are numerous other examples from practically every island community served by CalMac, so it’s no wonder that there is such widespread concern that depopulation could accelerate.

"The impact of the ferry crisis will get much worse before it gets better.”

During this yesterday afternoon’s Ministerial Statement on Ferguson Marine, Allan noted pressures on existing services to the islands, and the human consequences delays at the shipyard have had on Western Isles communities, asking: “Can the Cabinet Secretary give an indication of how the new vessels will be utilised to alleviate some of those pressures and problems in my constituency and elsewhere?”

Finance Secretary Kate Forbes responded by reaffirming the need for the vessels currently still under construction at Ferguson marine to be completed as quickly as possible, as they are needed to provide the necessary resilience on the network.

The Cabinet Secretary confirmed that a two-vessel service for the Uig triangle route was one of the options being looked at, as well as the MV Loch Frisa allowing for additional services on the Mallaig-Lochboisdale route when she comes into service later this year.

Vessels 801 and 802, currently under construction at Ferguson Marine, are now predicted to be delivered between March-May 2023 and October-December 2023 respectively.

In a separate debate on Scotland’s ferry services, the Transport Secretary Jenny Gilruth apologised to island communities for the severe disruption to ferry services experienced this winter, as well as the issues with timely communication of disruptions, and said:

“I am acutely aware of the need for the Government, and CalMac, to improve in this regard. And whilst I cannot […] improve our fleet overnight, I am intent that we deliver a better service. And working with our island communities I will explore every possible avenue to do just that.”

Meanwhile Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil has commended CalMac for its fast action to highlight vacancies on their network to those who have lost their jobs due to the sudden redundancies made by P&O Ferries. Last week P&O Ferries sacked 800 staff with immediate effect and replaced them with agency staff who will be paid at rates well below the minimum wage.

Mr MacNeil echoed comments from the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that the practice of Fire and Rehire is an appalling practice and offends the basic principle of fair work.

Mr MacNeil said: “I am very pleased to hear that CalMac are highlighting vacancies to those affected by the action of P&O Ferries. CalMac tell me they have had a very positive response to their communications encouraging applications from former P&O crew.

“Some positions have already been offered to fill vacancies on the CalMac network and I am also glad to hear that they are participating along with other ferry operators and the Chamber of Shipping in a crew redeployment scheme which gives access to applications from ex-P&O crew as vacancies arise.

“Ultimately however, this is not the solution. The required solution is that P&O changes this terrible policy that throws people out of their jobs.”