SNP councillors launched an inter island air services petition today (Friday 15th) following yesterday’s decision taken by the Comhairle to stop flights between Barra and Benbecula and reduce the service between Benbecula and Stornoway to just three days a week.
The petition was launched by Cllr Gordon Murray and Cllr Rae Mackenzie. Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil and Cllr Philip Maclean were also present at the petition launch at Stornoway Airport today.
The petition states: “the petitioners believe that the Comhairle’s current proposals risk the future of all internal flights within the Outer Hebrides and would severely undermine the transport connections which have been built up between the island over forty years...”
Cllr Mackenzie said he was “disappointed but not surprised” at the decision to cut and reduce air services in the Western Isles. He explained that SNP had worked closely with the Director of Finance on their alternative budget that would have retained air service provision. “It was a competent alternative,” he said.
Cllr Maclean said that the SNP group intend to present the petition at the Scottish Parliament Day to be held in Stornoway on March 15th. The SNP Group were clear that they believe this is a backwards step that will affect “the unity of the islands”.
Angus MacNeil MP said: “The last people who should be questioning transport in the Western Isles is the Western Isles Council.”
He said: “I do appreciate that ring fencing of this money has been removed but I feel that the Comhairle have a moral obligation to use this money on what it was intended for. Otherwise, the signal they will be sending to the Scottish Government is that they do not think transport subsidy is important. This would be a very dangerous road to go down, to signal that an island council does not value or understand the need for transport subsidies to the lesser populated areas of the islands.”
Speaking at the budget meeting at full council yesterday Leader of the Comhairle Angus Campbell said: “Today’s budget, the first of this council, is the third year running that we have faced a cash reduction in funding. Having made savings of £10 million in the previous two years, including around £5 million from internal efficiencies, we were faced with much harder choices.”
He added: “This budget has been the most difficult we have faced during my time as a councillor.”