Call for shake-up in ferry services after another disrupted weekend

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A former Scottish Office minister has called for an independent review of current and future issues affecting west coast ferry services following another weekend of disruption.

Brian Wilson, who lives on the Isle of Lewis and is chairman for one of the island’s largest employers, Harris Tweed Hebrides, said: ‘This is now a case of the whole being bigger than the sum of the parts.

‘It is completely unfair on CalMac Ferries and the people who work for them that they are at the sharp end of every crisis while the causes are largely outside their control.’

Mr Wilson believes the review should take place ‘outside the political arena’.

The call came amidst renewed concerns over ferry cancellations as the overstretched CalMac fleet struggled to cope following a breakdown of the MV Isle of Lewis last weekend.

‘Lifeline’ services were arranged but the disruption saw a wedding on Barra under threat, with the bride-to-be on the island and the band, catering and flowers left stranded in Oban.

The wedding was on Saturday but family members and guests were booked on Friday’s ferry – which would have been the last sailing before the ceremony.

It was feared they would not make it in time but CalMac scheduled the MV Isle of Mull to make the journey at 6.30pm on Friday night.

Hundreds of passengers sailing to Tiree Music Festival were also affected. Their sailing had been due to leave Oban at 6.15am on Friday but went at noon instead.

The Scottish Government quango, Caledonian Marine Assets Ltd (CMAL), which is responsible for procuring piers and vessels, is locked in a 61 million legal dispute with Ferguson shipyard on the Clyde over two unfinished ferries which are desperately needed to augment the CalMac fleet.

Mr Wilson continued: ‘These problems are now so urgent and interwoven that the only sensible way to proceed is through a general review of what has gone wrong, how it is going to be addressed over the next few years and how much it is going to cost.’

‘Making and mending on a daily basis repeatedly puts the ball back in CalMac’s court though they now have no involvement in procurement or design of vessels, or even capacity.

‘Maybe, for example, CMAL should be scrapped and an integrated approach restored. The split between operations and infrastructure was supposedly demanded by the EU, so that could be one quick gain if we come out.

‘This is so important for all island communities and every business dependent on reliable communications.

‘We need an authoritative look at all these issues, outside the political
arena, in order to find a way forward.’