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There's new hope that the wholesale cancellation of ferry services to Uist can be avoided. 

New ScotGov Transport Minister Kevin Stewart MSP has given an assurance that his main focus is getting the three CalMac ferries currently in dry dock back into service urgently.

In a meeting yesterday (Friday, March 31) with MSP Alasdair Allan, Comhairle Leader Paul Steele, and the Comhairle Transport Convener, Uisdean Robertson, the new transport chief said he would also be looking closely at mitigation measures submitted that day by the Comhairle. The proposals would avoid Lochboisdale being marooned without ferry service for almost six weeks.

During the online meeting, the Transport Minister said he had clarified his concerns to CalMac, particularly communications, and requested the ferry operator supply him with daily updates and meet weekly for briefing meetings.

Mr Stewart acknowledged that the current situation is due to a lack of resilience in the fleet. Therefore, as a priority, he would review the progress of the vessels currently under construction.

Speaking about the Lochboisdale ferry cancellations, Alasdair Allan MSP said: “Islanders are justifiably furious to have this lifeline service withdrawn, just as some normality was resuming after the disruption caused by the Uig pier upgrade works and last month’s issues on the Sound of Harris.

“Something has clearly gone particularly badly wrong with this year’s dry dock schedule, and it is not right that South Uist should have to bear the brunt of yet another weeks-long period of zero ferry service. Uist cannot withstand this level of disruption, yet again, nor should it when other island routes elsewhere in the network are still functioning.”

Also speaking after the meeting, Cllr Paul Steele, Leader of the Comhairle said, “The Minister clearly understands the gravity of the situation and is picking up where his predecessor left off by looking to work with islanders and their representatives directly. This is encouraging and I feel in Kevin Stewart we have a Minister who we will work with very well.”

 Cllr Uisdean Robertson, Chair of Transportation and Infrastructure added, “The meeting with the Minister was very productive and the Minister has now invited the Comhairle to submit our mitigation plan that will avoid the loss of service to Lochboisdale and ensures island economies across the network are considered in a more balanced way than Calmac’s usual go-to option of cancelling services to South Uist.”