Auditor: Islands have been ‘disregarded’

Faclan gu math cruaidh son fear a tha na ard neach sgrudaidh.Faclan gu math cruaidh son fear a tha na ard neach sgrudaidh.
Faclan gu math cruaidh son fear a tha na ard neach sgrudaidh.
The Auditor General for Scotland, Stephen Boyle, has said the interests of islanders were “disregarded” throughout the Ferguson scandal which has contributed to the current state of ferry services.

His comments were revealed as efforts continued to patch together a winter timetable for Harris and Uist while a linkspan is installed at Uig for a ferry that is now five years late in delivery.

Caledonian MacBrayne said this week that they are still unable to publish a winter timetable, due to take effect in little over a month, because of continuing uncertainty. They referred inquiries to Transport Scotland.

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In a remarkably frank assessment, Mr Boyle said their inquiries had found “a multitude of failings” in delivery of two vessels, including one due to serve the Uig-Tarbert-Lochmaddy routes.

He continued “From a people perspective, there are people who live, work and socialise on those islands who were disregarded. Taxpayers’ money has financed projects that are many times over budget and many years late”.

Mr Boyle said in an interview with Holyrood magazine that the ferry debacle was just one example of where the Scottish Government not only made major spending mistakes but also failed to make information about them publicly available.

The Gazette this week asked to speak with Mr Boyle to elaborate on his remarks about the treatment of islanders but this was declined.

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Meanwhile there is speculation that the six month closure of Uig pier will be divided into two shorter spells next year – though there are concerns about what this would entail for next summer’s timetable if the first one was to overrun.

A spokesman for Transport Scotland told the Gazette on Wednesday: “The Transport Minister is acutely aware of the community concerns in relation to the planned Uig harbour closure and has always been clear that Ministers will continue to engage with communities and work with all partners to consider further mitigations which the Government might be able to support.

“Last Thursday’s meeting was held to discuss potential alternative closure periods with a wide range of stakeholders, including those from Harris. There was broad acceptance that the revised approach was the preferred option, although it was noted that further technical detail had still to be considered by project partners.”

Transport Scotland denied that Harris Development Ltd was deliberately excluded from last week’s meeting, putting it down to “an administrative error”.

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Harris Development chair Kenny Macleod expressed “displeasure” about not being invited, particularly since Tarbert is the only port that will be left with no ferry service during the Uig closure.

The HDL statement continued: “We understand, through informal conversations and emails received, that the new proposal involves two shorter periods of closure, one from 30 Jan 2023-27 Mar 2023 and the other from 30 Oct 2023-11 Dec 2023. On the face of it this would appear to be a more palatable solution.

“However, we are led to believe that these came with a risk of closure up to 12 weeks during the main summer season. If that is the case, then we CANNOT accept that huge risk to our already fragile economy.

“At the meeting in April, we were told that delaying the works until next year was not an option but, now we are finding that this is indeed the option being put forward. It is only because we refused to accept the ‘fait accompli’ that we have had a new approach.”

He added: “Why are Highland Council and Transport Scotland so against doing anything that will mitigate the huge damage that the closure(s) will have on the communities in the Western Isles?”.