Islanders ‘still missing out on food slots’

Michael Varley of Jura

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Islanders continue to face a frustrating runaround trying to make online food orders from mainland supermarkets, according to residents.

Michael Varley, of Keils, Jura, said no ‘click and collect’ slots had been available at Tesco Oban for ‘well over a month’ after sounding the alarm in March.

The problem affected islanders who do not have access to the shopping range of the mainland, explained the 72-year-old, who is classified by the government as a ‘vulnerable’ customer in need of priority delivery.

Mr Varley has tried to raise the issue directly with Tesco chief executive Dave Lewis after trying to contact the company on three different numbers.

Each time, he said he was either cut off by recorded message, referred back to the website or received stock responses to any email he sent.

Mr Varley is eligible for a priority ‘slot’ under the Scottish Government scheme but believes these are for ‘home deliveries’ only which does not work for those living on an island.

Supermarkets will only deliver within a certain radius of their store which means the islands miss out, he said.

Instead, they rely on ‘click and collect’ and a link-up with grocers Walton’s of Oban, who he said had done a ‘great job’.

Walton’s add a surcharge onto food orders to cover the additional time and cost of sending staff to the stores to pick out items for customers, and then transports them to the island via ferry and delivering to the door.

On neighbouring Islay, the Co-op had taken orders from Jura residents and shipped them to Feolin for Jura customers to collect, Mr Varley said.

Brendan O’Hara, the Argyll and Bute MSP, said the issues facing the islands had been a top priority for him.

Mr O’Hara, for the SNP, said improvements had been made thanks to the efforts of island communities and local businesses.

‘However, there are still significant challenges to be overcome, particularly for those living on Iona, and we will continue to press Tesco to ensure people living on our islands have equal access to shopping services and are able to get what they need and can afford,’ said Mr O’Hara.

He has raised the issue with Fergus Ewing, the Scottish Government cabinet secretary for the rural economy.

The supermarkets needed to understand the ‘unique challenges’ faced across the constituency, which includes Mull, Iona, Jura and Tiree, among others.

He has also written to all local supermarkets to express his thanks for their recent efforts.

In an email to Tesco customers from its chief executive Mr Lewis, the company has pledged that it is working to support the UK’s ‘most vulnerable customers’.

But for many living on the islands off Scotland’s west coast, that pledge is falling short of expectations.

Tesco has said that in the six weeks since lockdown it had increased ‘delivery slots’ to a million – up around 400,000.

‘We’ll increase this to 1.2 million deliveries per week in the next few weeks,’ the company said.