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Balancing on a financial tightrope

We live in a really special place. I know my opinion is clouded by the fact I was born and brought up in South Uist but that doesn’t make it any less true.

I’m in the fortunate position of representing our community as one of the Councillors for the South Uist, Eriskay and Benbecula Ward and also as Leader of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

One of the perks of the job is that I’m privileged to receive information and reports about what’s happening at local, regional and national levels on a daily basis and if anything, that information and my experiences in the job have backed up my opinion.

Of course there are difficulties and issues that need to be resolved but everyone who has put themselves forward to represent their area knows that, and tries their best to resolve the issues and overcome the problems.

The situation that has taken up most of our time at the Comhairle recently has been the small matter of setting our budget for the year 2024/25. We have a legal duty to present and agree a balanced budget and despite late interventions from Government, I’m happy to say that we managed to do just that in February.

What I’m less happy to say is that we had to use up £2m, around half, of our unallocated reserves and make £1.7m of service changes and reductions to do that. Plainly speaking, that means reductions in some of our services and no room for growth.

We also had to put an indicative freeze on filling some long term empty posts to meet a savings target of £300k and rather than using interest received on a loan to the Stornoway Port Authority and the income from increasing Council Tax on second homes to improve some service areas, those revenue sources had to be used to “fill the gap” and stop any further cuts.

I’m sure many of you will have noticed that service levels aren’t what they used to be but the unfortunate reality is that because we have less resources (people and funding) we aren’t always able to provide the levels of service that we’d like to provide. It hasn’t helped that inflation means our finances don’t go as far as they did.

That is the same across much of the public sector. Scottish Government themselves and most other public bodies in Scotland are now having to deal with trying to find savings and efficiencies in order to run their services. For Local Authorities that has been our reality for a number of years now, certainly since I joined the Comhairle seven years ago.

This year we expected a flat cash settlement from the Government but actually received an increase of £2.3m, however once pay deal commitments and other Government priorities were accounted for, it actually meant a £1.5m drop to our General Revenue Grant (GRG), which is the main source of Local Authority funding.

The other source of funding is Council Tax but, as I’m sure you’re aware, we were funded by the Government to freeze it this year. The general view across Scottish Local Authorities is that the funding to do that should have been awarded to Councils in our GRG and we should have been allowed to set the Council Tax at a level that supports the services we need to provide. I’ll not labour the point but apart from the financial side of things, the principle of the Council Tax is that it is a “Council”Tax and it should be up to Councils to decide on it.

I need to commend my fellow Council Members for the decisions they have made, the process of identifying and agreeing the savings was not easy and, as I said during the meetings, the Budget we agreed on wasn’t one any of us would wish to see presented. We went line by line into the detail of budgets across all Departments and it highlighted how little room there is for manoeuvre without looking at compulsory redundancies. Thankfully, we’re not in that position and we were also able to protect the Additional Support Needs (ASN) budget as well as the Inter Island Air service as they were highlighted as council priorities.

This year’s budget setting has been further complicated by late and conflicting messaging from the Scottish Government and we may not actually be able to make some of the savings we’ve already agreed, for example on teacher numbers, putting pressure to find those savings elsewhere during the year.

I really need to commend the staff at the Council, it was one of the most difficult budgets to set in the context of reduced resources and increased costs but when you throw a Cyber Attack into the mix, it really can’t be overstated how extraordinary it was that IT, Finance, Democratic Services and all the other teams at the Council supported the Members to allow us to set the budget.

They are certainly the unsung heroes, but like most heroes their work is never done. The work for next year’s budget will start very soon and it’s not going to be easy. Nobody said it would be but there’s a desire there from Members and Officers to approach it head on. A willingness to be innovative and to protect and improve front line services to the public because at the end of the day, that’s what the Council is there to do.
I believe I mentioned in a previous column that us Islanders are often heard but not necessarily listened to but sometimes the message gets through and it gives you hope that things are changing.

Although we’re still working through the detail it looks like some of our budget lobbying has been effective and meetings with the Deputy First Minister and the Minister for Local Government has led to the announcement of further funding for Councils in general and specifically Island Councils. Too late in terms of the Budget we’ve just set but perhaps enough to allow us to soften any blows during the year and, dare I say it, actually invest in services.

Further proof that we’re being listened to is the £20 million we were awarded as part of the UK Government’s Levelling Up Partnership. I hosted the UK Islands Forum on behalf of the Comhairle late last year and having extolled the virtues of what us Islanders can do if we’re given the resources to take things forward we were very pleased to hear Mr Gove and his colleagues’ announcement. We now have to ensure we spend it wisely.

When I started this piece I wanted to tell you a bit about what I’ve been up to and offer some thoughts on what can be done to improve our situation and there is no shortage of material. As you can see the Budget alone took up most of the space! Single Island Authority, Crown Estate Funding, Special Islands Need Allowance, Area Forums, The Islands Deal, the King’s Awards for the Daliburgh SHARE Thrift Shop, the Comhairle committee series taking place in Uist and Barra in April and all the rest will have to wait for another day.

So I’ll finish with this and reiterate that I think we live in a really special place but to allow it to thrive we need to focus activity around three areas; 1-You need to be able to get here (and away, reliably, regularly and affordably) 2-You need to be able to live here (in accommodation that meets your needs at a price that’s affordable) 3-You need to be able to work here (in well paid jobs in a varied economy)
If we can get those three things right then the rest will follow.

Marina damage still in question

The newly expanded and improved pier at Lochmaddy was officially opened on 26th February, with Cabinet Secretary Fiona Hyslop on hand to cut the ribbon.

Although the new pier has already been in operation for some time, the ceremony marked a formal conclusion to the infrastructure works and offered an opportunity to thank the teams involved in the project.

Cllr Uisdean Robertson, the Comhairle’s Chair of Transportation, said: “The delivery of this project alongside the improvement works at Tarbert and Uig has demonstrated the value of close partnership working between Transport Scotland, CMAL, CalMac, Local Authorities and partner organisations. The development of the pier in anticipation of the arrival of the ferries currently under construction in Turkey is welcome and will see a dedicated vessel on the Lochmaddy to Uig route.”

The £15.3m contract to upgrade the CnES owned pier had been awarded to George Leslie Ltd in February 2022 and works were originally due to be completed in the Spring of 2023. The project has delivered improved berthing facilities, a strengthened and extended pier, new fendering and an expanded marshalling area, in readiness for the new vessel that will operate on the Uig route.

The works have not been without controversy. Lochmaddy Marina Ltd is pursuing the contractors involved with the project to determine liability for what they describe as £700k-plus write-off costs.

A spokesperson for Lochmaddy Marina Ltd told Am Pàipear: “When works first started in the spring of 2022, the anchor securing the marina pontoons to the sea bed floor were dragged a full five metres out of place. We were part way through negotiations for the anchor’s reinstatement and were not expecting dredging to commence without its return to position.

“Exactly one hour and three minutes prior to the accident taking place, I got a text message from the sub contractor saying the dredging had started. The next thing was a panicked phone call saying that the hammer head pontoon at the end of the marina had been wrenched upside down.

“If there had been a boat tied up, or heaven forbid, crew members asleep in the hold, there could have been deadly consequences. As it is, the marina will not be in a position to open to the marine tourists that Lochmaddy usually hosts, and in real terms, that is money not in the tills of local shops and businesses.” “We remain now in the hands of the various solicitors when it would be much simpler in our view for reinstatement costs to be paid and we can all move on. After five months, our hope to appeal to the better natures of those involved is now wearing thin.”

A spokesperson for George Leslie told Am Pàipear: “We are aware of the allegations. At present, the matter is being investigated by insurers. We will have no further comment to make on this issue.”

Positive news from Crofting Commission

Figures released last month from the Crofting Commission highlight a positive upturn in the number of new entrants to crofting.

Across Scotland, the commission reports 510 new croft tenants in 2022/23, with almost half that number being women and almost a third aged under 41 years.

The figures mark a five- year high in the number of new entrants to crofting and highlight the growing interest in this unique land tenure system, particularly among younger generations.

In Uist, the positive picture played out with 29 new entrants, including 12 women and 12 under the age of 40.

The news has been welcomed in the Western Isles, where the decline in population is currently around 5.5% and a continuing cause for concern.

Commenting on the release, Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan said: “The latest figures for new entrants to crofting are very encouraging. This progress demonstrates new measures on helping prospective new crofters secure a croft tenancy are working, though of course there is still more that can be done to make the process more efficient and to further widen access.

The entrants are taking up their new role as crofters at a critical time for the sector. Changes to the way agricultural support is awarded will be introduced in 2026 and are expected to place greater burdens on smaller farmers and crofters.

The Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF) has called for a fairer approach to the new funding regime, and last month joined fellow sector organisations in a protest at the Scottish Parliament.

Addressing the Rural Affairs and Islands Committee, SCF Chief Executive Donna Smith said:

“We believe that the agriculture bill is not fit for the purposes stated in the objectives, such as the production of high-quality food and nature restoration. It will not enable crofters and other small-scale producers to deliver on these objectives. There are no firm mechanisms to truly support rural communities, but rather a focus on large-scale industrial food production.”

The national picture makes for a worrying backdrop for local crofters, who face significant increases in the price of feed and fertiliser, the additional cost of transporting stock on and off the island and a still uncertain future for Lochmaddy Mart.

Click through to the March edition of the paper to read about two families taking up crofts.

Yvonne & Billy, left and Triona and Ron, right.

Local democracy matters

In my roles as Chief Executive of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Returning Officer for na h-Eileanan an Iar and Convener of the Electoral Management Board, I have spent many days supporting the delivery of the democratic process and encouraging people to think about not just participating in it as voters but also considering being a candidate for election, at whatever level: Community Council, Local Government, Holyrood or Westminster. A Brussels or Strasbourg option is now off the table. The right to engage with politics was hard- won, is the envy of many elsewhere in the world and should not be taken for granted.

Engaging with local government, elected community organisations and groups run for the benefit of their local area is among the best ways of understanding, addressing, and developing solutions to the complex challenges faced by individuals living in the Western Isles. It is also among the best ways to develop and grow the strengths of a community; there always needs to be a healthy balance between addressing needs and identifying and taking advantage of opportunities. It is often Local Government and elected organisations which can and will make the biggest difference at a local level, and when that happens, that is community empowerment in action.

Listening, sharing views and working in partnership towards agreed outcomes are all means of sustaining Uist as a fantastic place to live, work and learn.

Over the next month individuals in Uist will have the opportunity to have a say on who represents them at the most local level during the elections for Community Councils and the Board of Directors of Stòras Uibhist. I hope that there will be high levels of engagement in both of these elections. Local Government Elections in Uist are always contested, often by many candidates, and Uist is well represented in positions of leadership within the Comhairle: the Council Leader is Paul Steele from South Uist, Uisdean Robertson leads for us on Transport and Infrastructure and every one of the Uist councillors is an office bearer within other Committees and Boards.

It has been heartening to see the level of political discourse and activity in Uist over the last number of months, arising of course from difficult circumstances, to put it mildly, particularly on the transport front. I hope that this community action will transfer to interest and participation in these elections.
In June we saw hundreds march in protest over the failures of the CalMac ferry service, a showing of mass political engagement that is rarely seen outside of the UK’s major cities.

Individuals in Uist have shown an unwillingness to sit back and accept the levels of service offered and the decision- making structures which have resolved what the levels of service should be. There is real power in presenting a well- reasoned and thought-out case and demonstrating grassroots local political campaigning.

For some though, there may be question marks over why standing for Community Council election is a good outlet for this political interest.

First of all, it’s important to define what exactly a Community Council does. Scottish Community Councils define a Community Council as being:

“A voluntary organisation set up by statute by the Local Authority and run by local residents to act on behalf of its area. As the most local tier of elected representation, Community Councils play an important role in local democracy.”

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar cannot – and does not want to – run services with a one size fits all approach and already adapts delivery to match the specific needs of local areas, as far as we can. The role of the Community Councils alongside elected members is to establish and communicate the local needs and priorities of their own area.

The next question is perhaps: who should become involved in Community Councils?

Again looking at the Scottish Community Council’s definitions:

“Community Councils are comprised of people who care about their community and want to make it a better place to live.”

This is key, for our Community Councils to function effectively they must be comprised of people who genuinely care about their local area.

Community Councils have a key role to play in gathering information from the local community and campaigning for positive change in their area. Whether it is to Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Scottish Government, UK Government or public or private companies it is vital that people living in local areas have opportunities to express their views on the services they access and to outline their own priorities.
Uist, like the rest of the Western Isles, currently faces an array of opportunities as well as some complex issues which are unhelpful to sustainability and arguably now more than ever Uist needs strong representative voices.

Access to reliable transport links has become a critical challenge and an area of continued disruption while the delayed roll-out of fast broadband connections further impacts on connectivity to the mainland. These are practical issues that require a solution that works for the people of Uist.
It is important that these challenges are acknowledged and made a priority. However, the next few years also promise to present some exciting opportunities for employment and growth that give plenty of reasons for optimism and excitement.

For us to be best placed to make the most of these opportunities and tackle these challenges it is important that we have informed individuals who care about their local area in positions where they can represent them.

For Uist to thrive the essentials of any sound economy are required: jobs and housing.

On this topic there are grounds for optimism: the employment of graduates in Uist and Eriskay through Highlands and Islands Enterprise’s Graduate Scheme, the promise of employment opportunities through the Spaceport 1 project and the growth of local businesses thanks to Business Gateway investment have all contributed much needed youth employment opportunities.

Community owned company Stòras Uibhist has recruited an Estate Management Apprentice following engagement with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s Employability Team. One of a number of apprentices currently employed in Uist.

Since the community buyout of South Uist in 2006 Stòras Uibhist has worked to create opportunities such as this for residents while managing the natural environment of the area.

Community land ownership should place the interests of the local community at the heart of decision making and presents opportunities for the drawing of funding to directly benefit people living in an area.
Community ownership also gives an opportunity for people to have a direct voice over the strategy and outcomes for their area. This month’s democratic election of Stòras Uibhist directors is an example of this.

I have been heartened to see the number of candidates for the Directorship election and encourage all eligible voters to engage with the process.

Charity says corncrake warnings ignored

RSPB Scotland has expressed its frustration that conditions it set out to protect birds during the most sensitive part of the breeding season were not attached to the approval of the Spaceport development at Scolpaig, in North Uist.

Local staff say they feel let down by the process and are calling on Comhairle nan Eilean Siar to refuse licensing for launches during the critical periods of May and June.

RSPB Scotland says that Scolpaig is an important breeding ground for rare and threatened bird species such as the Corncrake, Greenland Barnacle Goose and Ringed Plover. The charity expressed particular concern about noise and said the conditions it had set out in its response to the planning application would have prevented significant negative impacts.

The proposed mitigation plan issued alongside the development proposals included some measures to reduce disturbance from noise and activity, with efforts made to provide suitable habitat for breeding further away from where rockets will be launched.

RSPB Scotland said that while it welcomed these mitigations, it had requested that, should the application be approved, a condition was added preventing launches during the most sensitive part of the bird breeding season.

An RSPB spokesperson said: “The Comhairle chose not to recommend such a condition to restrict launch times. Instead, in their committee report, they said that operators who wish to launch during the bird breeding season will be required to justify potential impacts through a dedicated Assessment of Environmental Effects (AEE), which would form part of their launch licensing requirements. This requirement, however, does not seem to be specified in any planning condition so it is unclear how this will be carried out.”

RSPB Outer Hebrides Island Manager Tom Churchyard added: “It is disappointing that the commercial interests of this development have been placed ahead of the environment at the most sensitive times of year and the Comhairle have failed to include an Assessment of Environmental Effects within their licensing requirements. This leaves the possibility that unacceptable disturbance will be allowed to take place to some of our most protected breeding bird species at the most sensitive time of year. We would urge the Comhairle to refuse licensing for launches during May and June.”

In response to the RSPB’s statement, the Comhairle said:

“The development of the North Uist Spaceport is subject to a number of regulatory regimes of which Planning is only one. The licencing of the Spaceport operations is one regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and is a separate mechanism to the planning process. The Planning system should not duplicate other control regimes such as licencing.

“The planning assessment considered in some detail the potential impact of the development on birds, including breeding birds, and had due regard for the comments of the RSPB and others.The planning authority is satisfied that for the purposes of planning the conditions seeking provision of a Breeding Bird Protection Plans and a Habitat and Amenity Management Plan are sufficient, relevant to the development permitted and reasonable in all respects.

“The CAA as the consenting authority for a Spaceport licence application will consider an Assessment of Environmental Effects (AEE) that the applicant must provide as a part of the licence application for the Spaceport. The CAA would apply licence conditions, including any related to launches during the bird breeding season, as it deems appropriate.”

The campaign group Friends of Scolpaig has confirmed that it will be lodging a petition to the Scottish Parliament and submitting an open letter to Scottish Government and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

Calls grow for new PSO on Benbecula route

The Comhairle has called for a new Public Service Obligation to protect Uist’s air service following Loganair’s timetable reduction.

Last month, Loganair reduced its Benbecula-Glasgow timetable to just one flight a day, saying it was forced to reduce the service as a result of delays in the delivery of new planes.

The new timetable caused particular concern for island residents as it no longer allows for a Friday afternoon departure and a Monday morning return, shuttingdowntheopportunity of a weekend getaway.
The reduced timetable has again raised the issue of the Public Service Obligation (PSO), with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar saying that without the service level agreements of a PSO in place, the Glasgow- Benbecula service is vulnerable, with no guarantee that flights will operate year-round at a time that suits the islands and at a fare they can afford.

North Uist Councillor and HITRANS Chair Uisdean Robertson said the feedback from his constituents has been clear:

“I have received a significant volume of correspondence from people concerned at the early introduction of the winter timetable on the route to Benbecula. It was very notable that vast majority of those writing to me on this issue were our younger people and those whose business travel is negatively impacted by the early reduction in service.

“Many have underlined how this decision makes them reconsider the viability of their continuing to live in Uist. Air services are an important lifeline for many of us and if we cannot rely on receiving a servicethat meets the needs of the community through the current model of commercial provision, we need Government to step in and put in place a service that does. If the required service is not being delivered commercially, this can only be achieved by introducing the PSO model that works so well for Barra and Tiree.”

A spokesperson for Loganair refuted claims that the service was not commercially viable, saying:
“Assumptions that Benbecula-Glasgow is a loss- making service are unfounded and wide of the mark.”

The PSO in place to support the Barra – Glasgow service allows for a current ticket prices of £54 to £81 one way, depending on time of booking and direction of travel. The same booking for the Benbecula – Glasgow service costs between two and five times that price, with the most expensive one way flight priced at £386.

Even with four weeks notice, it is still cheaper to travel the 3,500 miles between London and New York than it is to to cross the 158 miles between Benbecula and Glasgow.

The new Scottish Government – Loganair PSO contract commences at the end of October and will introduce a £91 ‘residents fare’ on the Barra – Glasgow service, applicable only to those living on Barra. Transport Scotland says that fares for all other passengers, including Uist residents, will be a commercial decision for the operator. Concerns have been raised that Uist residents and their visiting family members who choose to fly this cheaper route may well now face a hefty price rise in line with Benbecula fares.

Lognair has confirmed that the sale of the company is proceeding as expected and that an update will be provided in due course.

Public consultation launched on new route prioritisation plans

CalMac is carrying out a public consultation on proposed changes to its controversial Route Prioritisation Framework.

The Route Prioritisation Framework informs CalMac’s decision making around service cancellations and has been blamed for the month-long cancellation of the Lochboisdale service in June this year. CalMac had been under significant pressure to re-think its route mitigation planning following a heated meeting in South End Hall that same month.

CalMac launched the consultation with a statement saying:

“The proposals, developed in conjunction with representatives from Transport Scotland and the Ferries Community Board, would see several changes, including:

• More importance being placed on islands residents and commercial vehicles
• More priority given to routes with higher levels of disruption • An aim to limit disruption to any one route for a period of approximately one week at a time • Spread available vessels across one-two routes, rather than impact single communities.”

Uisdean Robertson, North Uist Councillor and Chair of HITRANS said the proposals were a step in the right direction:

“The new proposals seem to set out a fairer approach to managing the service in the event of vessel outages and should at least avoid the situation we faced in South Uist earlier this summer, where one community was disproportionately targeted.

“In terms of equity, this new approach is an improvement but until new vessels can be brought into service, we will have to accept that a greater number of routes will be affected as CalMac shares the impacts across the network.”

The new approach would be based on the vehicles carried in the previous season, weighted in favour of island residents (50%), then commercial vehicles (40%) and finally leisure vehicles (10%), and also would factor in the total percentage of sailings disrupted and cancelled against the original timetable for previous season.

The new proposals would see the land-accessible Ardrossan- Campbeltown and Mallaig-Armadale routes as first hit options when a vessel cascade is needed, and would be based on the core principle that impact on any single route would be limited to one week at a time.

CalMac says that the proposed changes are likely to mean more customers are impacted by disruptions than previously, including island residents and commercial customers and that timetables could be more complicated and change more frequently.

The consultation is available on the CalMac website and will remain open until midnight on 24th September.

MP vows to stay on

Angus McNeil’s growing rift with the SNP came to a head last month with his formal expulsion from the party he has served for more than 20 years.

Under UK Parliamentary rules, by-elections are triggered when a candidate resigns or dies, is declared bankrupt, is convicted of a serious criminal offence or takes a seat in the House of Lords; an MP’s change of political party does not automatically trigger a by-election.

Mr MacNeil no longer represents the party under which he was elected but has said he will continue in post as an independent representative, adding that he hoped to rejoin the SNP in time to stand on their ticket at the next election.

Mr MacNeil told Am Pàipear:

“There are many good people in the SNP and tremendous activists in all the islands. Following my suspension, I decided not to rejoin the SNP Westminster Group however I did keep my rank and file SNP membership but an SNP committee then decided to expel me. Perhaps in time to come wiser heads will prevail. What needs to happen is not expelling SNP members but focusing on independence and using elections which is the only option as referendums are blocked.

“The change in status has not changed my working life in Westminster. Despite the hype surrounding this, the reality is actually quite dull and boring and it makes no difference whatsoever. My constituents will notice no difference.”

Asked if, by leaving the SNP fold, he had reduced his influence on Scottish Government policy,Mr MacNeil said:

“I have always been quite free of party lines and spoke about things as I saw them. The sway on issues such as keeping airt raffic control jobs at Benbecula a number of years ago or against the HPMAs today is down to the force of the argument, not the status you have within a party.”

Mr MacNeil refuted claims that his departure would offer an opportunity to Labour:

“I have not left an open door for Labour in the Western Isles. Labour is more deeply unattractive as they adopt more and more Conservative policies.

“My move has made people talk more about independence; more and more people are understanding that we need independence and it is time that those in the highest levels of the SNP grasp that urgency.”

Angus MacNeil had been one of the SNP’s longest serving MPs and one of Scotland’s highest profile UK Parliamentarians. Less than a year after taking up his post in Westminster, he came to prominence calling for House of Lords reform, helping expose the Cash for Peerages scandal of Tony Blair’s Government. In 2007 and 2016, his extra-marital romantic exploits were exposed in the tabloid press and in May 2022, he faced a three month ban and a £1500 fine for dangerous driving, following a road traffic collision in Barra two years before.

With the next general election not far away, Mr MacNeil’s change of status has left this constituency in an interesting position.

The Western Isles has elected only three candidates in the last 53 years, each of them serving for a term of 17-18 years; Donald Stewart, SNP, 1970-1987, Calum, MacDonald, Labour, 1987 – 2005 and Angus MacNeil, SNP 2005-present.

As Am Pàipear went to print, the only candidate to confirm a challenge to Mr MacNeil is Lewis- based journalist Torcuil Crichton, who is standing and actively campaigning for the Labour Party. The SNP, the Scottish Conservatives and the Scottish Liberal Democrats have all confirmed that they will be selecting and then fielding candidates but have yet to reveal names; the Scottish Christian Party and the Scottish Green Party were not ready to confirm their position.

£3m and counting: Uist pays the price of CalMac service failures

The pressure group set up to lobby for improved ferry reliability has published a second economic impact assessment of the financial implications of disrupted services.

The South Uist Business Impact Group commissioned the report from Stirling University based MKA Economics, with support form Stòras Uibhist.

The new Economic Assessment looks at the period 30th March to 30th June this year, tracking the financial losses associated with ferry cancellations and disruptions during that critical three month period.

The study took the form of an online survey emailed to 307 local companies from Berneray to Eriskay, with just under half returning a response. Of those responding, all confirmed they were aware of the ferry service being out of action, and 90% stated that their business had suffered as a direct result of that service loss. The report says that the figures confirm ‘the critical importance of the ferry service, and the significant detrimental effects of its inactivity on local businesses’.

The report sets out the startling losses endured by Uist businesses as a result of ferry failures:

• £2.6million in lost turnover
• 1,005 person days lost
• £80,850 of additional cost incurred

Taken together with the losses associated with ferry failures in 2022, the report concludes a demonstrable total loss in the region of £3m.

Almost all those responding concluded that a Plan B must be in place to ensure their businesses did not suffer significant losses and business threats as result of any future ferry outage. Almost three-quarters felt it was a ‘very good idea’ that multiple, smaller ferries were in operation to ensure no loss of service in the future.

The report concludes with a call to action:

“Consideration of how businesses should be recompensed and supported through grant aid or other financial measures to alleviate the losses to their business should be brought forward. This could be direct to business, a fund for businesses, or money targeted towards improved ferry service(s).”

Last month a Freedom of Information request submitted by Scottish Labour revealed that non-weather related CalMac cancellations had more than trebled, with over 40,000 cancellations since 2018.