Sarah Jane MacSween – Executive Head, Uist Primary Schools

Discover your inner kindness this Christmas – ‘tis the season to be jolly and kind!

As we approach Christmas, we start to hear the word ‘kindness’ and are reminded that this word is commonly used at this time of the year.

I recently heard that kindness was contagious. It got me thinking, whether this was true and more importantly, is there any evidence to back that statement? My immediate thoughts led me to events and celebrations that unsurprisingly, all occurred within school settings. A school environment is arguably the most likely place to see evidence of natural and unconscious kindness. The evidence can be found on corridor and classroom displays, children’s work and Achievement and Celebration Walls to name but a few. Kindness can also be observed through the caring and thoughtful interactions between adult and child and their interactions with each other. I then asked myself the question, is kindness something that can be learned and how and when does it get taught?

Kindness is more than random acts. Being a kind person is about having an awareness and a willingness to respond to the needs of others.

Children learn from the examples set by the adults that surround them. Some say that they begin to imitate others from the moment they are born. As their first educators, parents/carers have the duty to allow their children to experience kindness themselves first hand and so give them the best possible start in life. Of course schools play a significant role in moulding and creating our future generation. However, it is not just the work of the school; the whole community can shape and influence young learners. Family and friendship groups can also make a significant contribution to the attitudes that our children form.

One of the building blocks of kindness is to understand and respect the rights of others. Across the Uist primaries, we pride ourselves on the quality of our Teaching and Learning about rights. Our schools have achieved silver, gold and reaccredited gold Right Respecting Schools status. Teaching and learning about rights involves whole school community involvement, our curriculum, assemblies, interdisciplinary learning, focus days and weeks and the children’s creative and informative displays within the school.

The Uist primaries will continue their Rights Respecting Schools Award journeys as a means to keeping our young children at the centre of everything that we do. We are committed to putting children’s rights at the heart of our school life. We strive to create safe and inspiring places to learn, where children are respected and learn to respect others. By enabling children to have positive attitudes to themselves and others, we enable them to form relationships characterised by kindness.

The school curriculum aims to ensure that all children and young people in Scotland develop the knowledge, skills and attributes they will need to become successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens. Underlying these capacities is the capacity to be aware of the needs of others, in a way that treats them with dignity and respect.

Each year our children and our families participate in a number of ways in responding to the needs of others at Christmas. For example, families contribute generously to the Blythswood Shoebox Appeal and a Christmas Swap Shop gives families the chance to find pre-loved party gear or Christmas jumpers. Within our schools, efforts are made to reduce family expenses through the effective use of The Cost of The School Day Toolkit. Families are encouraged to sell unwanted toys/clothes etc. on the schools’ Facebook pages, where all proceeds go towards school funds. Children and their families also reach out to the needs of the wider community by supporting local and national charities, such as WICCI, MacMillan Cancer and Marie Curie.
Another important contribution was when a school and Parent Council purchased electric trikes in partnership with the local care home as part of the Cycling Without Age Scotland initiative.
Across our Uist primaries, themed assemblies and special days highlight local, national and international issues and concerns, ensuring that children are well informed about the needs of others.

A wide range of activities that demonstrate our children’s experiences of expressing kindness take place through the course of the year. These include The Poppy Scotland Appeal, harvest festivals, donations to the local foodbank, panto/concert matinee performances for senior citizens, The Big Scottish Breakfast, sharing of pre-loved school uniform items for exchange free of charge and many other important acts of kindness.

Our schools are very fortunate to have such a high level of generous support and kindness shown to us by our local communities and businesses. Through the kindness of many donors, we receive support for school projects and events such as involvement in Mod preparation, purchases of healthy break time snacks, participation in Remembrance Sunday and sharing in intergenerational activities.

When I reflect on this range of activities in families, schools and communities, I think I can say with confidence that kindness is indeed infectious and alive and well in the Western Isles.

Uist nominees line up

Chaidh sgioba beòthail agus tàlantach ainmeachadh airson 21mh Duaisean Ceòl Traidiseanta na h-Alba aig MG ALBA a tha a’ taisbeanadh na tha de thàlant ann an saoghal ceòl traidiseanta na h-Alba.
Fans of the genre were able to vote for who they think deserves to take home each prestigious award, with the winners announced at the annual glittering awards ceremony at Caird Hall in Dundee on Saturday 2nd December 2023.

Le cànan is ceòl aig cridhe nan eilean, chan eil iongnadh ann gu bheil a leithid as na h-eileanan air an ainmeachadh airson na duaisean urramach a tha seo. Tha na duaisean seo a’ sealltainn an luach a thathar a cuir air na tha a h-uile duine air a’ gheàrr-liosta air a choileanadh fad bliadhna.
Le ath-bheothachadh drùidhteach air a’ ghnè, a’ ruighinn luchd-èisteachd nas fharsainge le fèisean is tachartasan ùra a’ tighinn am bàrr bliadhna às deidh bliadhna, tha na duaisean – air an cur air dòigh leis a’ bhuidheann ‘Hands Up For Trad ‘– a’ seasamh mar theisteanas air tarraingeachd leantainneach an t-saoghail.

From new events and festivals making history to the country’s best bands and composers, the successful nominees represent the past, present and future of a world traditional Scottish music and are located all over the country.

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.

New concerns raised over patient travel provision

Fiona MacVicar

In its June issue, Am Pàipear shared concerns expressed by patient bodies and third sector organisations that the gap between travel costs incurred and reimbursement payments made by NHSWI was leaving many patients out of pocket and having a detrimental effect on their health and wellbeing.
The article prompted a number of readers to get in touch with Am Pàipear to raise awareness of another issue negatively affected patients travelling to off-island medical appointments: the funding of escorted travel.

The NHSWI Travel Policy details the criteria for allowing funded, patient escorts: “In general, a travel escort will only be provided by NHS Western Isles if the patient has a significant clinical condition that makes independent travel impossible.”

Prior to 2018, requests for funded escorts were approved by the patient’s GP; the new Travel Policy places that responsibility with the Stornoway-based NHS Western Isles Medical Director.

Patients say that the change has resulted in fewer escort approvals, leaving many vulnerable patients with a difficult choice; to face the stress of travelling alone or to pay the additional travel costs of an escort themselves. Those without adequate funds face a starker choice still: either travel alone or don’t travel at all.

As one patient told us: “It’s expensive to be poorly in Uist and Barra and illness doesn’t single out the wealthy.”

Steven MacDonald, originally from North Uist and now living in Wester Ross, spoke to Am Pàipear of the trauma his family faced when his heavily pregnant wife Sophie became ill while on a visit home last year:
“At 5pm we phoned NHS 24 as Sophie wasn’t feeling great and were asked to head to the hospital. Her blood pressure was quite high, so the doctor was concerned.

“Arrangements were made to fly us to Raigmore and at this point, I was told I would not be allowed to be her escort. They were willing to fly my heavily pregnant wife on her own to Inverness. Eventually, at 10pm, we were told we were being flown out to Aberdeen of all places. We didn’t arrive until 1am and the paramedic on board told us he tried to have us routed to Glasgow, but this was against the doctor’s wishes.”

After intense discussion, Steven was finally granted permission to travel with Sophie, but the family have still to receive any reimbursement for the cost of Stephen’s travel:

“We submitted claim after claim with all appropriate receipts and to this day have never got our money back.”

Many of the other people Am Pàipear spoke to wanted to share their experiences with readers, but asked to remain anonymous. They spoke of the financial and emotional impacts of being refused funded escort support.

An older woman told of her lost independence following a serious fall: “I used to do everything myself but since the fall, I can’t get about on my own and I’ve lost my confidence.” Despite mobility issues and crippling anxiety, she has been refused an escort, and told Am Pàipear that she is now considering cancelling her appointment: “I just don’t think I can face going alone.”

Another woman who regularly travels to the mainland for cancer treatment described the situation as ‘an inequity of the service’:

“If you live in Glasgow and are going to the sort of appointment where you could potentially get bad news, you would have someone with you. That’s not an option here in the islands and you would be required to travel home alone. I have seen people on the plane visibly upset after receiving bad news at an appointment.”One cancer patient with addiction issues was refused an escort, despite letters of support from the GP, his support worker and the MacMillan nurse: “Had it not been for a Cancer Care Forum paying for an escort to travel with him, he would not have attended hisscan.”

Another woman, who regularly travels to the mainland for specialist breast screening appointments, highlighted the prohibitive cost of patient travel: “A standard room with no breakfast cost me £192.00 and I waited approximately four weeks for reimbursement. If I couldn’t afford that, I would have cancelled my appointment, which some have unfortunately had to do.”

The sentiments shared with Am Pàipear echo the responses to a survey developed by retired nurse and North Uist Community Council member Effie Rodgers, and the late Flora MacDonald, Ahmore. The survey detailed the views of 11 local cancer patients highlighting the financial hardship and emotional strain of travel to and from off island appointments. The survey is expected to be rolled out to the wider patient community in due course.

Responding to the concerns raised, an NHS Western Isles spokesperson said:

“It is important to stress that, where escorts are clinically required, they are approved in line with our policy. However, we must ensure that the criteria are applied in a fair way. This will ensure that those patients who require an escort will continue to receive financial assistance, but it will also mean that those who do not meet the criteria will not receive NHS funding for an escort. We understand and acknowledge that in some cases, this will be disappointing. However, there is a limited budget for patient travel, which is under significant pressure, and we must ensure that the money available is spent appropriately.”

The NHS Travel Policy is due for review this month.

Long waiting lists and high costs put childcare out of reach of parents

Siân Swinton

‘We are being failed by a lack of nursery provision.’ This is the message from parents on North Uist who have been contending with long waiting lists and high costs for childcare.

“It’s a national picture with local implications,” Ceiteag of Cothrom Òg in South Uist told Am Pàipear. Cothrom held a meeting at the beginning of the year with the Social Justice and Social Security Committee of the Scottish Government to discuss difficulties in accessing childcare on Uist.

“Without housing, childcare, employment and good transport links we can’t encourage people to remain or come and stay here. It’s all linked with the economic aspect,” said Ceiteag.

Concerns have, again, been raised in the six months since that meeting. Am Pàipear was approached by several worried parents in North Uist who are having to make the difficult decision between returning to work and relying on the kindness of family and friends to provide childcare or giving up on work altogether until their child can get a space in nursery or go to school.

At the moment funding is only available for 30 hours per week of childcare, beginning the term after the child turns three; funding is not available for children under three years of age.

Kirsty MacDonald, a parent in North Uist, told Am Pàipear that she is currently paying £625 a month to send her children to nursery for three and a half hours a day, three days a week so she can continue working.

Ceiteag said that national level investment is needed into childcare facilities and staff training to meet the needs of families with children aged 0-3 years as local authorities will not be able to plug this gap within current budgets.

A lack of staff and space compounds the issue. The required staff-to-child ratios get smaller the younger the child is; one adult can accommodate eight children between the ages of three and eight years but can only take on three children aged under three. These staff ratios and the square footage of the rooms dictate how many children the nursery can accommodate.

The problem is worse in North Uist which has experienced a ‘baby boom’ in the last few years. This has created more opportunities for employment in the childcare sector but the Comhairle has had little success in their drive for recruitment, with one parent saying they only see postings for ‘relief ’ positions, which are unattractive to anyone trying to earn a stable income.

A community meeting was held at the Claddach Kirkibost Centre on Friday, 25 August to discuss concerns around early years provision with Comhairle senior officers and North Uist Councillors in attendance.

Angela MacVicar was at the meeting and told Am Pàipear of the difficulty she is having in securing childcare for the gap between her return to work and when she can get a space in the nursery.
“I put my son on the waiting list in January and he can’t get in until November. I need to go back to work in September so I have to rely on my dad providing childcare. He’s self-employed and will have to take the time off unpaid.”

Aimée Fuller echoed Angela’s concerns and said that, although she hopes that she has been able to secure a space for her child, she is worried about what to do during school holidays when the nursery at Sgoil Uibhist a Tuath is closed.

“I work full time as a manager in a hotel so my busiest times are in the holidays when the nursery is closed! We don’t have family on the island to rely on either.”

All the parents that Am Pàipear spoke to were quick to praise the nursery itself and the service they receive from the staff but expressed disappointment at the lack of funding and care shown by the Comhairle and, on a national level, the Scottish Government.

Following the meeting, parents said they had not been given adequate solutions had instead been given the opportunity to apply for a £500 council grant to start their own childminding business.

Cllr Hocine said, “I felt that most parents understood the difficulties in delivering a service that will suit everyone, especially in the current financial climate. There was a good and positive discussion and some good suggestions were made that the Council will look at and get back to the parents.”

“Comhairle nan Eilean Siar appreciates that there is currently a demand for spaces in Saoghal Beag Sgoil Araich Uibhist a’Tuath. Following a meeting with parents the Comhairle has agreed to look at a number of possible solutions.”

Aimee said: “Meanwhile women lose their jobs.”

Teen health concerns

Siân Swinton

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has unanimously voted to support a ban on single use vapes, coming in line with a majority of local councils in Scotland.

Single use vapes are electronic cigarettes marketed as ‘disposable’ and designed for one time use.

Councillor Susan Thomson, who led the proposal, said: “We want to make it clear we are not targeting refillable vapes, which can be a valuable tool to stop smoking. This is about marketing inappropriate products to children.”

The main focus of the ban is the danger to the health of young people, who are being enticed into using these devices by the bright colours and sweet flavours, according to the motion put to the Comhairle.

“Children and young people who vape have a three times higher risk of going on to smoke cigarettes,” said Cllr Thomson. “I just don’t think we know enough about them.”

The Health and Well-being Census Scotland 2021-2022 found that there were a higher number of regular vapers among S2 and S4 pupils than regular smokers with 6.7% and 2.7% respectively.
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh both support a ban of the devices.

The environmental impact of single use vapes has also been brought into question. Laura Young, a climate activist and environmental scientist based in Dundee, has been very vocal about the campaign to ban single use vapes and points out on her website Less Waste Laura that many of the companies that make the vapes do not give sufficient information on how to dispose of them.

Despite their marketing as ‘disposable’, vapes are classed as Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) and are meant to be disposed of at specialised centres rather than included in regular household waste.

The motion put to the Comhairle states: “…disposable vapes contain a range of precious metals including lithium and copper, which can be collected if recycled in a safe and appropriate manner…many disposable vapes are designed in a manner that does not allow for them to be disassembled and their valuable recyclable materials separated.”

Uist residents wishing to recycle these devices responsibly are unable to do so, as facilities to safely deal with them simply do not exist on the island.

As well as generating unwanted plastic waste, the single use vapes contain lithium-ion batteries which, when crushed, can cause fires and small explosions within bin lorries and at waste treatment centres. These ‘ghost fires’ have resulted in many waste treatment centres having to invest in fire detection technology at a cost of hundreds of thousands of pounds. The dangerous nature of the batteries also pose a risk to the person using the device and this is more difficult to control.

According to research commissioned by Material Focus, a non-profit organisation promoting re-use and recycling of electrical items, 1.3 million single use vapes are discarded each week, which adds up to 10 tonnes of lithium being wasted each year – enough to power batteries for 1200 electric vehicles.
Zero Waste Scotland has begun a review on the environmental impact of single use vapes, taking into account the loss of important resources such as lithium and the effect of plastic pollution. First Minister Humza Yousaf has confirmed a ban is something the Scottish Government is considering and will wait until the review has been completed to make final decisions.

Glastonbury festival was recently in the news for putting single use vapes on their ‘do not bring’ list due to their commitment to reducing their impact on the environment. Eilean Dorcha Festival, based on the fragile environment of Liniclate machair, were asked about their stance on the devices considering the landscape in which the festival takes place and were happy to say they would ban the devices too.
With a message also going out to parents of children at Sgoil Lionacleit regarding a meeting on the pupil use of vapes at school, it does seem as though distaste and worry surrounding single use vapes is coming from every area and aspect of the community.

Sgoil Lionacleit has scheduled a meeting with parents to discuss the issue.

The final point in the motion to the Comhairle states: “…a ban on the sale of disposable, single use vapes be introduced in Scotland as soon as is practicably possible in order to help move Scotland toward a sustainable circular economy and protect children and young people from risks to their long-term health.”

The June edition of Am Pàipear is now available to view online!

We are thrilled to welcome two new members of staff to Am Pàipear! In this issue, we are featuring the inaugural pieces by Siân Swinton and Fiona MacVicar, who have joined us as Community Reporters. 

This month we cover the troubling news on both ferries and ticks, as well as the details of the new Transport Minister Kevin Stewart’s visit to the islands and Berneray residents’ fight to save the Mobile Library service. 

In cheerier news, we’re celebrating Lochboisdale’s own Emma Scott, who recently won Trainee Fisherman of the Year at The Fishing News Awards!

All this plus the latest from out regular columnists: Councillor’s Column, Southern Isles Vet, Hebridean Naturalist and of course the news from Ena!

We’ve been experiencing a few technical issues with our web subscription service recently. Please accept our apologies and be assured that the issue has been resolved. If you experience any difficulties, please don’t hesitate to contact us at

Wake up and smell the coffee

One way or another, the last few years have felt like a battle.

Covid threatened so much of what we took for granted and the subsequent economic squeeze is still playing out with devastating consequences for households, local businesses and our stretched to breaking point public services.

Despite the best efforts of the Uist repopulation project, the idea of ‘a new Highland Clearance’ is no longer an overly dramatic headline but a cause for genuine concern.

Budget proposals for the coming years set out that stark reality – £1.7m worth of cuts to the Comhairle’s service delivery plan and a further £4.1m savings lined up for NHS Western Isles.

Included in the Comhairle’s budget strategy are proposals to remove ‘four posts without backfill from secondary schools’, a reduction in supply budgets to provide classroom cover and reduced funding for Taigh Chearsabhagh, EDF and Fèisean nan Gaidheal. 

The fate of these services is in the hands of our elected members as they cast their votes in this month’s round of Council meetings.

Quietly, behind the scenes, vacant posts that have proved difficult to fill are removed from the establishment. The role of mobile librarian is now at the centre of a service review that could save the Comhairle £100k. The same approach is being taken by the Health Board as it considers whether to continue with the 24/7 consultant psychiatry service currently staffed by a costly locum. 

These service cuts aren’t some abstract notion happening away from our lives, they are real and felt keenly right here in Uist: the family of a disabled child struggling to cope without the care and support they need, cancer patients left out of pocket after ferry chaos impacts have clocked up longer stays and rescheduled trips, potholes unfilled and roadside ditches left unattended.

Another example of this quiet taking away is Loganair’s withdrawal of its fuel farm service at Benbecula Airport, leaving the Coastguard and the Air Ambulance without the option of refuelling here on Uist. On the face of it, a small move with, no doubt, plenty of evidence to support it;  aircraft refuelling isn’t something we will need every day, but as with a first aid kit, we will surely know its loss when emergency strikes.

And on top of it all, every passing month seems to mark a new low for our failing ferry service; what was once the pride and joy of staff and passengers is now the subject of national ridicule and local scorn. 

Bit by bit, as if by stealth, services are being taken away, standards are slipping and in response, we are slowly lowering our expectations to recalibrate what ‘normal’ is. 

So what are we to do? Sit back and bemoan our losses or fight for our right to be?

We are often told that we should not ‘talk up’ the negative; that doing so will only discourage new people from coming and depress those of us already here. But it isn’t positive thinking to ignore our current issues and sleepwalk into worse, it’s reckless abandonment. 

Talking about what’s wrong – shouting it from the rooftops if need be –  is the necessary first step on the road to putting it right.

For that we need a seat at the table, and without it, we might as well be shouting to the wind.

The Boards of our transport services have members from across the world, yet none from here; would having ANY local representation on the CalMac Board help ensure decisions taken about our ferry service do actually reflect the needs of islanders? I think so.

It is easy to feel defeated, to throw our hands in the air and resign ourselves to our reduced circumstances but when we do take action, we can deliver change. 

Our coherent and compelling case against Highly Protected Marine Areas resulted in a firm, publicly-made assurance from the First Minister that our waters would not be designated against our wishes.

And what of the ferries? How many different groups and individuals are fighting this particular cause? Our elected members are leading the charge, our community councils are putting up a strong fight and business and community leaders are making clear their demands. It remains to be seen if these campaigns will deliver positive outcomes.

This edition of Am Pàipear has other examples even closer to home.

In Berneray, residents have banded together to petition the Comhairle for the continuation of the mobile library service in the face of budget cut proposals.

The Benbecula Patient Participation Group (PPG) is fighting to get proper compensation for those left out of pocket after attending off-island medical appointments.

Our third sector organisations are pushing to reinstate our voice at the Integrated Joint Board (IJB) through the re-establishment of Uist’s Locality Planning Group (LPG), a forum which once helped shape policy on health and social care but is now no longer in operation.

These groups are not empty acronyms, they are our friends and neighbours, putting their time and effort into fighting for what’s ours. And they can’t do it alone.

Across Uist, there are committees and boards struggling with too few volunteers; we need more shoulders to the wheel if we are to turn things around.

In fighting to regain our losses we shouldn’t lose sight of what we still have.

Our local businesses need our support, and in all honesty, every Amazon parcel is another pound not going through our Uist tills and that will, inevitably, lead to closures. We need our businesses to thrive, to employ our people and supply our goods.

Project Uist is a job for us all. There is strength in numbers and speaking with one voice creates more noise and it certainly carries more clout.

What better forum for that strong collective voice than this newspaper, which has steadfastly been serving this community for almost five decades?

Work starts on new Uig vessel

It was all smiles in Turkey as the first steel was cut for construction of two new ferries commissioned from the Cemre shipyard under a £91m CMAL contract.

CMAL say that construction is progressing well at the yard, with the two vessels destined for the Little Minch still on target for delivery in June and October 2025.

The two new vessels will deliver separate, dedicated services from Uig to Tarbert and Lochmaddy, replacing the shared service currently in place. 

At just under 95m long, the vessels will each have a capacity for up to 450 passengers and 100 cars or 14 commercial vehicles, which CMAL says will increase vehicle and freight capacity and ‘improve the overall resilience of the wider fleet’.

If the boats do deliver to plan, they will be in Scottish waters just three years after commission, representing a third of the time it has taken to build the controversial Hull 802, which was commissioned in 2015 and is now not expected to be ready to take up its Uig triangle route before the summer of 2024, when it will be nine years and over £110m in the making.

Scottish Government last month confirmed its commitment to the continued build of Hull 802, despite the findings of its Value for Money review which confirmed that, even at this late stage, it would be cheaper to abandon works at Port Glasgow and start from scratch with a brand new commission.

The delay of Hull 802 is just one of many ferry troubles the Scottish Government owned and operated ferry service is facing. 

After a series of maintenance delays and service disruptions, CalMac was forced to issue its fourth apology of last month when their much heralded new ticketing system failed on launch, causing mayhem for passengers trying to book travel and retrieve existing bookings.

Opportunities to enhance ferry capacity are being missed, according to HITRANS and CNES Transportation Chair Cllr Uisdean Robertson:  

“While CalMac has already employed the fourteen staff required to crew the MV Glen Sannox, which is still sitting in Ferguson Marine’s yard, they felt unable to provide the additional crewing to reinstate  use of the mezzanine deck on the MV Hebrides, which had, for the first twenty years of the vessel’s service, delivered much needed additional capacity.”

Cllr Robertson has written to the new Transport Minister to highlight the opportunity of reintroducing the mezzanine deck, asking Scottish Government to cover the £816,000 additional staffing costs CalMac has said are required for the deck’s safe operation. 

In his letter, he said that staff costs would be offset by revenue regained from lost bookings, currently estimated at £509,750. 

“The net cost to Transport Scotland of reinstating the mezzanine deck would be £306,250. I think this sum is modest when considered alongside the further economic activity that will be generated from this traffic. Please reflect on the modest scale of this request as a means of increasing capacity and relieving pressure on the Western Isles business community, particularly our tourism sector.”

Cllr Robertson told Am Pàipear that in response to his letter, he had received a blanket dismissal from Mr Stewart.

In a further letter to the Minister, Cllr Robertson called for a review of CalMac’s ‘top, top heavy’ management structure and a commitment that senior management should be based in the islands and not in the central belt:

“There is little to suggest there has been any improvement in performance or outcomes in recent years, but the Scottish Government budget statements suggest that you have paid more while standards have slipped.”

Find all the latest news online

The April edition of Am Pàipear is now available to view on our website!

It’s been an eventful month for the islands, and in this issue we cover all the news about Stòras’s recent deer EGM, the ongoing ferry issues and their impact on island businesses, and an interview with Uist’s favourite mobile librarian, Donald Ewen Morrison, as he prepares to retire after 20 years on the job!

We also have the latest from our regular columnists. Our Southern Isles Vet column tells us how to keep pets safe from ticks, Uisdean Robertson discusses active travel options for Uist in our Councillor’s Column and Alexander Thompson talks about the risks posed by New Zealand flatworms in his latest update for A Gardener’s Diary.

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