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      General News

More hammer-blows are being aimed at the Western Isles economy, already reeling after years of unreliable ferry services, soaring prices and port disruptions, as Scottish Government spending cutbacks taker a further toll. 

Today (Wednesday March 27) VisitScotland announced it will close all of its network of information centres over the next two years as part of "a strategy designed to grow the visitor economy by influencing visitors in the planning stage of their trip, before they leave home."

It doesn't explain what happens to visitors who fail to do this. The offices in Tarbert, Lochboisdale, Lochmaddy and Castlebay have all been closed in recent years. 

VisitScotland says it will invest its resources and expertise in a digital-first strategy. It will target channels it knows visitors use to inspire and influence where visitors go, when they come and what they do, including promoting lesser-known destinations and quieter times of year. 

All VisitScotland information centres – known as iCentres - will operate as usual until the end of September as part of phased two-year closure programme. VisitScotland says it is currently engaging with stakeholders to discuss local arrangements. 

Lord Thurso, VisitScotland Chair, said: “The tourism landscape has changed significantly in recent years. The demand for iCentres has reduced while the demand for online information and booking has continued to grow. In order to continue building demand and growing the value of tourism and events, it is vitally important that we target channels we know visitors use to influence them to visit Scotland."

“By evolving our work in this way, we will be able to invest in the activities that will accelerate sustainable growth in the visitor economy, helping create jobs, sustain communities and attract investment for the future.” 

Meanwhile the university and college sector on the Islands is facing a total of around £3.3m in cutbacks.

It was announced today ( Wednesday March 27) that UHI North, West and Hebrides is "taking forward its post-merger plans to become a fully integrated organisation, which is more sustainable and better serves the needs of its students, staff, and rural and island communities."

On top of £1.9 million annualised savings this year, it is nowworking with its trade unions and staff to reduce costs by a further £1.4 million. It is aiming to achieve these savings through vacancy management, a voluntary severance scheme and non-staff savings, in line with Fair Work principles.

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Lydia Rohmer, Principal and Chief Executive of UHI North, West and Hebrides, said: “We are working in partnership with our staff, students and trade unions to take forward the proposals we consulted on extensively in our merger business case to build our college of scale and impact, which better serves the needs of our rural and islands communities, enhances the student experience by widening access and connecting our learners, and can better respond to the once-in-a-generation economic opportunities in our region."

Colleges and universities across the country are operating in an extremely challenging financial environment – the college sector has seen a 8.5% real term reduction in Scottish Government funding for colleges between 2021 and 2023, and a further 4.7 % cut for the 2024-2025 academic year.

UHI North, West and Hebrides is beginning consultation with trade unions and staff on restructure proposals, which will create a more integrated, effective, and sustainable organisation.

It says work has also concluded on a curriculum review resulting in a new curriculum offer for the college for the 2024-2025 academic year, which safeguards provision across all subject areas and qualification levels, ensures the continued viability of practical courses delivered on the college’s 19 campuses and centres, and widens access to learning for more learners across our rural and island communities through the innovative use of digital technology.

(The figure for the total amount of UHI cutbacks has been corrected since this was first published.)