Disappointment over lack of response on ferries from Transport Minister

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Outer Hebrides Tourism (OHT) has reported that it has yet to hear back from Humza Yousaf, Minister for Transport and the Islands following their call, last month, for him to intervene on the ferries issue.

The group had been told to expect a response within 20 working days, but that deadline expired yesterday.

In a statement released this morning the group said: “The low priority suggested by such a response window concerned us, as much as the critical issue that caused us to write to Mr Yousaf in the first place.

“We have had no response from him but hope he has been using some of this time to come up with a meaningful solution.

“As a reminder, we continue to wait for his response on our call for him:

To personally intervene for the urgent reinstatement of the ‘Lord of the Isles’ to its normal schedule on the Mallaig – Lochboisdale route.

To engage with us in a meeting in the Outer Hebrides to discuss growing concerns around Calmac’s ageing fleet and its inability to commit publicly to ongoing service reliability.

The general pressure on most Outer Hebrides ferry routes and construction delays to two new ferries, with nothing else in a build pipeline, against a backdrop of traffic and visitor growth to the Outer Hebrides.

“No-one is even able to provide a date when the new Uig triangle ferry will enter service.”

In the past four weeks, OHT have met with Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan, CnES and the Chair of Calmac Community Board and, together with the Scottish Tourism Alliance, met with Transport Scotland to make them fully aware of their position and the impact on the islands’ tourism economy.

The group also met with Calmac MD, Robbie Drummond, last week to emphasise the same to him.

OHT believe that current ferry operational issues are costing the Outer Hebrides up to £6m, equal to about 1% of its GDP for 2018.

They continued: “There is already very limited availability on several routes throughout this summer.

“There are more than 218,000 visitors to these islands per year, almost 90% of these are from the UK and 85% of them travel by ferry.

“Longer term, multi-year delays in delivering new vessels are restricting our ability to grow the tourism sector, create opportunities and retain young people on the islands.

“Four new vessels (in addition to the ones under construction) or three plus a fixed link in the Sound of Harris, are required to provide a satisfactory service and room for our tourism sector to flourish.

“OHT is in a difficult position as we must raise this issue of significant concern to our tourism businesses, but media coverage and lack of appropriate action from government and Calmac, is seriously impacting people’s decisions to visit the islands this summer.

“Notwithstanding, the Outer Hebrides remains a stunning place for tourists to visit and enjoy, however they travel to get here, by air or sea, all year around.”