Comhairle nan Eilean Siar is currently reviewing the air services it provides between Stornoway, Benbecula and Barra and the public is being asked for their input on the future of service.
The Comhairle currently subsidises air services between Stornoway and Benbecula and between Benbecula and Barra on the basis of Public Service Obligations (PSOs), which are widely used by public authorities across Europe where there would not be enough fare-income for routes and services to be commercially viable.
The two separate contracts are currently both with Loganair Ltd, at a total cost of £630k plus per year and are in place until the end of March 2013.
When considering its future budget strategies, the Comhairle decided that, prior to putting in place replacement contracts from 1 April 2013 onwards, a review would be carried out on the services, firstly, to determine who are using the current services, how often they are being used and how dependant the various communities and public and private sectors across the Western Isles are on the services.
They also want to identify options which would either enable the services to be continued at their current levels, to be reduced to a level which would continue to address the needs of the majority of users or to provide alternative means to ensure continuity.
John Mackay, Chairman of the Comhairle’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said: “It is obvious that some sectors across the islands are very dependent on the air services we provide.
“However, the generally low levels of usage across both services must be recognised in the context of the considerable financial pressures that we face in the foreseeable future.
“Like many public sector organisations across Scotland, the Comhairle is faced with having to make very difficult decisions on the basis of what it sees as its priorities; the challenge of continuing to provide these air services is no different and they must be assessed alongside all the other services we provide.
“We recognise the importance of effective transportation links and the contributions they make to sustaining the remote and rural communities in the Western Isles, whether it is the roads network within the islands or ferry or air services within the islands and to the mainland, and we are very keen to explore all options which would enable some form of continuity for those who make use of and rely on the air services.”
He added: “An important part of the Review is for us to engage and consult with those who use and are dependent on the air services. We shall be holding public meetings in Stornoway, Benbecula and Barra in the near future and would encourage all those who have an interest in the services to either come along to the meetings or to discuss their views with staff from Technical Services or our consultants.
“As well as other public sector organisations such as NHS Eilean Siar and HIE and the voluntary sector, we shall also be consulting with current and potential air service operators to ascertain if there are other opportunities or alternative delivery mechanisms which if put in place would to enable us to continue to deliver air services which meet the needs of the majority of users.”
The Comhairle has appointed Reference Economic Consultants to provide specialist advice in carrying out the review and it is intended that the results of the Review will be presented to the Comhairle at the series of meetings in August and September.
The first of the public meetings is to be held in Stornoway on Tuesday 3 July at 7.30pm in Committee Room 3 at the Comhairle’s Offices on Sandwick Road; the second on Wednesday 4 July at 7.30pm in the Balivanich Community Hall; the third in Castlebay on Thursday 5 July at the Castlebay Community Hall.