Local News for Friday 31st August 2018

The Comhairle has tentatively welcomed the recent announcement by Michael Matheson MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, that £3.5m is to be invested by Scottish Government to reduce the risk of vessels breaking down and to return them to service quicker if they do.

Cllr Uisdean Robertson, Chairman of the Comhairle’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee said, “Our discussions with the previous Transport Minister confirmed that Transport Scotland were working with both Caledonian Maritime Assets and CalMac Ferries to identify ways and means to improve the resilience and reliability of what is obviously an ageing fleet. We are pleased to see that some progress is being made”.

“The announcement of a contribution of £3.5m is welcomed. We await details of how this funding is to be spent but we are aware that, not only is an increasing number of vessels in the fleet becoming more expensive and time-consuming to maintain to the necessary standards because of their age, but the availability of parts and, in some cases, the need to manufacture or fabricate them from “scratch”, is proving to be a growing challenge for the operator”.

“Engineering solutions and a more resilient and reliable supply chain for critical parts will likely form part of the wider strategy and, although we do not envisage it to be affordable within the funding announced today, additional spare tonnage for utilisation in the event of disruptions, planned or otherwise, must also form part of the solution for the medium to longer terms”.

A meeting of the Uist Economic Taskforce Working Group took place in Benbecula recently. Issues under discussion included the future provision of affordable housing, the development of economic links with the Faroe Islands and the on-going prospects of a Uist Spaceport. The main topic however, was a presentation by Threesixty Architecture into the draft proposals for a Balivanich Regeneration Vision.

Speaking after the meeting, Chairman of the Working Group, Cllr Iain A. MacNeil said: “The presentation by Threesixty Architecture provided an excellent overview of what can be achieved in Balivanich over the next number of years. The proposals presented to the Working Group were ambitious but realistic with a good mix of reinforcing strategies.”

It was agreed that the Working Group would host a community meeting in due course to present the proposals, and beyond that, will be looking to prioritise some initial “quick win” investments.

Threesixty Architecture were funded by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and Highlands and Islands Enterprise to assist the development of a Balivanich Strategy.

Caledonian MacBrayne have been forced to hand back £6million to the Scottish Government because their performance was so good!

Western Isles Labour candidate, Alison MacCorquodale, said that islanders would be astonished to learn of the reasons for the claw-back of subsidy and also the amount of money lost which could have been allocated to service improvements.

The claw-back has been required because CalMac supposedly achieved a 99.5 per cent rate against the targets set by the Scottish Government in the first year of the current contract to operate Hebridean and Clyde services.

She said it was ‘perverse’ to penalise the company on the basis of good
performance ‘but also that the criteria against which performance is
measured tells only a fraction of the overall story.’

Ms MacCorquodale said: ‘Nobody in the islands will recognise the logic or justice in this arrangement. It is glaringly obvious that there is a great deal CalMac could do with £6 million to improve services, regardless of these extremely selective performance targets.’

Ms MacCorquodale also pointed out that the £6 million claw-back put in perspective the recent announcement by Mr Matheson that £3.5 million might be available to speed up the repair of CalMac ferries that break-down.

She said: ‘On the one hand, we have the reality of £6 million being taken away and now we have the possibility - but no certainty - of £3.5 million being handed back. There are no prizes for guessing which one SNP Ministers announced in a press release.’