Lifeline deliveries to the islands are being delayed on the mainland as it is now almost impossible for hauliers to make the new earlier freight ferry service.
CalMac have this week implemented a new overnight service between Stornoway and Ullapool on MV Loch Seaforth which is two hours earlier than the previous service operated by MV Clipper Ranger.
This means that lorries collecting goods for local supermarkets in central Scotland struggle to make the 2.30am ferry which would allow them to have goods in Stornoway first thing in the morning.
The result has been empty supermarket shelves until after lunch, major logistical problems for local hauliers and concerns about the long term impact on the economy.
Hauliers are this week calling for CalMac and Transport Scotland to be flexible in setting a timetable.
This timetable will run for the next three weeks before traffic is redirected to Uig due to the Ullapool linkspan works, but after that hauliers are hoping there could be a re-think.
DR Macleod, owner of DR Macleod Ltd, who deliver supplies to the islands every day, said: “If this is a taster of what is to come, it doesn’t bode well.
“We have asked CalMac to be flexible, like they have asked us to be flexible over the transition period and we would expect there to be something back from them, but so far they have not been forthcoming.”
Hauliers have requested a compromise that the overnight service is just one hour later than the new timetable, but have been refused.
David Wood, owner of Woody’s Express Parcels said this situation was ‘a consequence of the one ferry option’ which had been highlighted by the hauliers two years ago.
“It is a disaster,” he said. “It has serious consequences for our businesses.”
He pointed out that his firm take orders up to 6pm for next day delivery and without goods arriving first thing in the morning he cannot meet that commitment.
His firm also deliver medical supplies across the islands, some products having a limited window of time for use.
“This is pretty serious stuff,” he said, pointing out that there was a lack of consultation.
He added that the situation had wider implications for the whole community and not just the business sector.
“Ultimately these things have an effect on the economy and something needs to be done,” he said.
With freight traffic at risk of missing the 2.30am service, this could also have a knock on effect on available space on the day time passenger services as lorries would have to travel on the mid-morning service from Ullapool instead.
In response to the issues raised, a spokesperson for CalMac said: “This revised timetable has been developed in partnership with Transport Scotland and provides for one overnight freight service and two day time return vehicular and passenger sailings.
“It has been agreed and publicised among hauliers for more than a year. We will continue to work with our customers and monitor the operation of the service.”
A Transport Scotland spokesperson added: “We have worked with CalMac to set the service requirements for the route utilising the new vessel.
“The implementation of the new timetable is an matter for CalMac Ferries Ltd. CalMac agreed and published the proposed timetable over a year ago but, in conjunction with Transport Scotland, will continue to work with customers and monitor the operation of the Stornoway-Ullapool service going forward.”
They also pointed out that although service requirements are fixed in the contract, timetables are open to change at the initiative of either Transport Scotland or CalMac Ferries Ltd.
Regarding the supply of groceries for their Lewis supermarkets, a spokesperson for The Co-operative said: “The temporary change to the ferry timetable has put an additional pressure on our hauliers, but we are working closely with them to ensure the minimum disruption to our customers.”