It is with disappointment and dismay that we receive news of the recent decision to cancel the Mallaig/Oban to Loichboisdale service for a period of six weeks, particularly on the eve of the Easter Holidays which typically marks the start of the busy tourist season in the Outer Hebrides. It is clear that the consequences of this decision have little or no relevance to absentee decision-makers, however for the communities and businesses, once again, bearing the brunt of the impacts of service cancellation it is but another disappointment in a catalogue of delays and cancellation with no meaningful progress being made to improve the situation in future.
We understand that delays in the annual overhaul programme have resulted in this decision, which points to the much wider issue facing the Clyde and Hebridean fleet. The ageing vessels are unable to meet the basic service provision expected and the complete lack of additional capacity within the fleet leaves the network persistently teetering on the verge of catastrophe. There has been a distinct lack of progress toward any long-term solutions to address these issues, while we acknowledge the recent chartering of the MV Alfred it is only a short-term measure.
Yet again it is the people and businesses in Uist that must bear the consequences of this decision and repeated failings in the delivery of the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Service contract. The impact on communities and lives of individuals cannot be understated, with the absence of reliable transport links a cause for grave concern leaving some questioning whether they can continue to make their lives in island communities already facing many other challenges. A report by the South Uist Ferry Business Impact Group fin 2022 found that losses over a two-week period in May of that year amounted to £648,000, the financial loss is difficult enough but the reputational damage is just as detrimental, with South Uist tainted as an unreliable destination.
Urgent action is required to address the issue of service provision on this route and many others that suffer from regular disruption. We hope that this matter will be addressed with the utmost importance by our new first Minister, given his experience as Transport Minister, and urge Kevin Stewart as the newly appointed Transport Minster to listen to the voices of individuals, businesses and stakeholders affected by these decisions to fully appreciate the urgency with which these actions need to be addressed.
Finlay J. MacLennan, Development Manager, on behalf of the Board of Trustees
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