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Three Scottish Government ministers were in Bowmore last Wednesday discussing long-term economic plans for Islay and Jura.
Attending the summit, which was organised by Argyll and Bute MP Brendan O’Hara, were Humza Yousaf, minister for transport and the islands, Fiona Hyslop, responsible for culture, tourism and external affairs, and MSP Michael Russell, Brexit minister.
Alongside the chief executives of Highland and Argyll and Bute Councils, they discussed ‘how to build a strategic, long-term plan for sustainable economic growth’ on the islands.
Representatives from Islay and Jura community councils were in attendance, as were the Ferry Users Group, the Tourism and Marketing Group and various spokespeople from the whisky industry.
They were joined by senior management from CalMac, Transport Scotland, VisitScotland and Mundell’s Hauliers.
Opening the summit, Mr O’Hara said: ‘As MP for Argyll and Bute and as the chairman of the all-party group on Scotch whisky at Westminster, everyone I speak to talks about their plans to increase spirit production on these islands and the rise in tourist numbers that will inevitably follow.
‘At the same time, I know the people of Islay and Jura are at the end of their tether over the crumbling road infrastructure and the huge challenges posed by a ferry service that is very often unreliable and occasionally bursting at the seams.
‘So I just couldn’t see how increased spirit production, coupled to the inevitable rise in visitor numbers, would be possible given the already huge demands being put on both the roads and the ferries.
‘It seemed everyone was happily ploughing their own furrow, without any strategic overview or a long-term plan for sustainable economic growth.
‘That couldn’t go on and I felt it essential that all the stakeholders, from community to national government got together to arrive at a shared vision for the future wellbeing of Islay and Jura.’
Following the meeting, he said: ‘I am absolutely delighted at the announcement by Transport Scotland that Islay will be the first in line in the next vessel procurement exercise to replace the MV Hebridean Isles.
‘I am also delighted everyone present at this summit is in agreement about the need for better and more collaborative working, and I welcome Humza Yousaf’s commitment to do everything practicably possible to ensure the challenges are met and the islands’ potential is realised.’