There’s no use in having an MP who is a member of he current party of government if they do not use their privileged political contacts in the interests of their electorate.
Ian Blackford, SNP MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber after defeating the late Charles Kennedy, chaired the recent meeting in Sleat to discuss the ongoing disruption to the Mallaig/Armadale ferry service which is an important access route for the island.
This was the meeting which called for the resignation of both the Managing Director and the Operations Director of ferry operator, CalMac Ferries Ltd.
The meeting also demanded the return to the route of the MV Coruisk, the vessel built specifically for it.
The islanders are outraged that ‘their’ boat has been taken away to become the additional boat on the now two-boat ferry service between Oban and Craignure on Mull.
Had Transport Scotland not allocated the Isle of Arran to the just about utterly pointless part time summer season ferry service between Ardossan and Campbeltown [whose timetable is the most ridiculously unable one to promote inward tourism to Kintyre], that vessel would have been a good second boat for the Oban service. This would have left Coruisk – which is not an ideal boat for the weather on the Oban-Craignure route – to her traditional Skye route.
Stories are reaching us from insider sources that it was indeed Calmac that decided to put a second boat – and Coruisk, on the Oban run, to deal with the increase in usage that RET discounted fares would generate – and that Transport Scotland simply went along with it. [We have just asked for confirmation or denial of this version of events.]
While Ian Blackford is clearly supporting his constituents position, he could do a great deal more to help them.
Publicising the decision of the meeting to call for the restoration of the Coruisk to the Mallaig-Armadale service through adding his personal support for it is all very well – but if he had a word with his party colleague, Transport Minister, Derek Mackay, that is the ultimate authority, Whosever’s was the decision to move Coruisk away from he home route, whwetyhr ot wa Transport Scotland or CalMac, the Transport Minsiter has the power to overide that decision and to instruct CalMac to make alternative arrangements.
It s clear from what Mr Blackford has said after this meeting, that he has every intention of doing just that.
At the meeting in Sleat, the MP heard the views of the Sleat community, including ferry users, residents, local businesses, and organisations. Over 80 people attended the session and recounted numerous personal experiences of the disruption to the service caused by the total unsuitability of the vessels being deployed by the Company and spoke of the damaging effects on their businesses, livelihoods and travel plans. There have been no fewer than 80 cancellations of sailings to date.
As well as significant delays to departure times, the MV Lord of the Isles, which is used on the route from mid-morning to mid-afternoon, has been unable to berth in Mallaig on a number of occasions due to wind conditions – and has either spent several hours and many litres of fuel cruising up and down the Sound of Sleat, or has been diverted to Oban to fulfil its Lochboisdale service.
Coach tour operators have had their itineraries curtailed by the operating restrictions, all of which were predicted by the Forum in its submissions to the Company. Passing trade for local businesses is directly affected by the uncertainty of the service, which in April 2015 experienced just two cancellations out of a planned 428 sailings.
The Sleat Transport Forum has received numerous reports from individuals, businesses and organisations from across Skye and Lochaber expressing significant concern at the effect that this disruption is now causing, with the consistent view that it is now such an unreliable service, that customers are avoiding using the ferry.
There is now a severe threat to the economic prosperity of the communities heavily dependent on the benefits that this popular and profitable service brings.
Ian Blackford says: ‘The public meeting at Clan Donald was a welcome opportunity for individuals and businesses to share with me the impact of the disruption that has been faced by communities in Skye and Lochaber since the removal of the Coruisk. We know that Caledonian MacBrayne were well aware from the outset that the removal of the Coruisk, a vessel which was purpose built for the Mallaig-Armadale service and had a high level of reliability and its replacement with mix of vessels was going to bring operational challenges.
‘Quite why a management team can think the removal of a vessel that is designed to operate from a linkspan and can operate at low spring and summer tides, and replace it with vessels that are designed to operate from slipways and consequently can’t operate at low tide off the linkspans at Mallaig and Armadale, beggars belief!
‘The end result has been an unacceptable level of cancellations and disruptions that have undermined confidence in the service. As a result, businesses that are vital to the sustainability of the economy of Sleat and elsewhere on Skye and the mainland are seeing an impact on their businesses. In particular, coach operators have cancelled bookings on Skye. This is not acceptable and I join with those at the meeting in calling for the immediate re-instatement of the Coruisk and for Mr Dorchester and Mr Collier to accept their responsibilities for the shambles that has become the Mallaig-Armadale service.’
The last note in the MP’s statement is the one that counts: ‘I will be communicating this message to Caledonian MacBrayne and I will also be seeking an early meeting with the Transport Minister to update him on the situation here and seek his support to restore the service on the route to an acceptable level. I will also be taking up with the Minister the welcome suggestion that was made at the meeting last night for the creation of a Ferry Regulator.’