MacNeil comments on Leader’s flight plans

Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil. SGD24451.
Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil. SGD24451.

Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil has released a statement following the announcement that the Leader of the Comhairle will move for a report on an inter-island Air Discount Scheme to be operated in a similar way to that operated for flights to and from Scottish Islands.

Revenues generated from the change could be used to support or increase island air services assessed against existing and new priorities.

Due to budget cuts Stornoway/ Benbecula flights were reduced to three days a week and Barra/ Benbecula flights scrapped.

Mr MacNeil said: “It is heartening to hear the Council is talking of u-turning their ill advised, ill thought out and un-mandated policy of axing the Benbecula Stornoway air-service by 40% and the Barra Benbecula service entirely.

“The airports have unsurprisingly seen numbers of passengers fall in Barra and Benbecula, with Stornoway having seen less growth than the rest of the HIAL network. This move will have caused economic and social damage, and has been the biggest vandalism to island transportation in 40 years.

“After a summer of trying to make this work, I have recently been approached by cancer patients who are telling me that their journeys while sometimes difficult before, are now a nightmare. People are reaching the limit of their patience with the Council, and with winter approaching, lack of patience will lead to frayed tempers.

“If this is not resolved to the wishes of the communities and if the Council keep ignoring their needs, I will be appealing along with the communities, for the Scottish Government to directly fund the inter-island Public Service Obligation (PSO) air routes as they do for the island to mainland PSO routes.

“We can all make mistakes. I hope the Council realise their mistake especially as some of the councillors who voted for this have not even been to the all the islands in question since their election.

“The Hebrides should be properly linked North and South. These cuts have made going to Glasgow or Edinburgh a far shorter journey than travelling from one end of the Island Local Authority to another.”

However Comhairle Leader, Angus Campbell, stressed: “The Comhairle will not unravel its budget and the decisions made at the time which followed extensive public consultation. Any enhancement of services will have to be as a result of new revenues.

“One way of doing that may be to look at a new discount scheme and I will be asking officials to prepare a report looking at that and the possibility of using new revenues on air services.”