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Council leader bypasses Scottish Government and asks for Boris Johnson’s help to resolve Western Isles’ ferry woes

Western Isles Council leader Roddie Mackay has written to No.10 to seek a more robust ferry service
Western Isles Council leader Roddie Mackay has written to No.10 to seek a more robust ferry service

The leader of the Western Isles Council has issued a plea to Boris Johnson to help fix the islands’ beleaguered ferry service.

Roddie Mackay has warned that failure to address connectivity issues could have “catastrophic” effects for islanders.

Managing the service is devolved to the Scottish Government, but Mr Mackay said he was contacting Westminster because of Holyrood’s unwillingness to address “systemic service failure”.

The council leader said a lack of action over the past five years has placed great strain on the islands – at a time where connectivity is needed more than ever.

According to Mr Mackay, recent problems with the MV Loch Seaforth have “shone a brighter light on the lack of resilience in the fleet”.

Number 10 asked to step in

In his letter to the prime minister, on the back of the Union Connectivity Review, Mr Mackay said the ferry network has experienced a period of “unrelenting chaos” in a time of “unprecedented stress and strain”.

The review, led by Network Rail boss Sir Peter Hendy, promises to deliver faster road and rail links and create new transport links across the UK.

Mr Mackay has said he has grown “wholly frustrated” with Transport Scotland, ferry operator Caledonian MacBrayne and builder Caledonian Marine Assets Ltd (CMAL), adding that “all appear either incapable or unwilling to address the issue”.

He has invited Mr Johnson to visit the Outer Hebrides to see the impact of the strained ferry service.

Boris Johnson has been urged to step in to find a resolution

‘The Scottish Government are not delivering for us’

The council chief feels the system in place is wrong and requires change.

Mr Mackay said: “I am personally calling for structural change.

“We have got a pinball wizard where you have got Transport Scotland, i.e. the Scottish Government, you have got Cal Mac ferries who are supposed to deliver the service, and you have got Caledonian Marine Assets Ltd (CMAL) who are supposed to build the ferries and commission the infrastructure.

“All of them are owned by Scottish Government.

“It is a really convoluted and cumbersome system that is just not fit for purpose and it is not delivering for us.”

Markets could be lost which would lead to redundancies

Mr Mackay has called for urgency in addressing the situation to avoid a hugely detrimental impact to locals.

He has said pleas to government officials have fallen on deaf ears and is now seeking intervention into what he says is the “number one issue for islanders”.

Western Isles Council Leader Roddie Mackay

He added: “Year on year the ferries were getting worse, older and less reliable and this has just come to crisis point.”

“We have presented challenges and possible solutions to the Scottish Government and we are making no headway.

“It is really frustrating.”

‘Nothing more than a blatant power grab’

A spokesman on behalf of transport minister Graeme Dey said: “We recognise the frustration at the current disruption and the impact it is having.

“We are doing everything that we can, supporting CalMac to maximise available capacity across the network and to ensure the timely resolution of these issues.”

He added that £580million has been pledged over the next five years to develop an investment programme for vessels, with ferries for Arran and the Uig triangle to be completed in this timeframe.

The MV Glen Sannox was expected to be ready this summer.

The spokesman added that he felt the union connectivity review was nothing more than a “blatant power grab”.

He added: “We will make sure we improve connectivity across the islands and Scotland but the process for deciding that is for the Scottish Parliament and not the UK Government.”

A UK Government spokeswoman said: “The UK Government is committed to working alongside the devolved administrations and communities across the UK on the challenges we all face and as we build back stronger from the pandemic.

“This includes the Union Connectivity Review and we have actively sought to engage with the Scottish Government on this.

“We have received the letter and we will respond in due course.”

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