Tag Archives: ferries

Ferry Disruption Continues to Cause Issues

Tiree continues to be affected by the ongoing ferry situation, despite the island’s dedicated vessel, the MV Clansman now back in operation following an 8 week stay in dry-dock.

Following on from successful sea trials at the beginning of the week, the MV Clansman has now been deployed to the Uig triangle to substitute the MV Hebrides who is due in dry dock, following on from an agreed three-week extension to their operating license issued by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

Finlay MacRae, Cal Mac Area Operations for the north, told Tiree Community Council: “Assuming no unforeseen issues, MV Hebrides should be available again for service week commencing 21st May and that in turn will allow MV Clansman to return to Tiree, Coll and Colonsay service.” However, he then continued: “The current repair to the Clansman is being permitted with a time restriction on the repaired component parts, which will have to be fully replaced by new parts which are currently being manufactured. The removal of the temp parts and installation of the new will require the vessel to attend dry dock again, we expect in June, and will be in touch shortly to discuss.”

Tiree is currently still being serviced by The Lord of the Isles, which to the most part is able to cope with the demand of Tiree traffic, at this time of year. The earlier introduction of an additional Saturday sailing has been hugely beneficial in assisting with capacity issues. However, it is looking like the capacity issues that arose over the Easter weekend, are due to be mirrored this weekend, as Tiree gears up for the annual 10K and Half Marathon event.

As An Tirisdeach goes to press, various issues were developing, however as expected it mostly transpired that the LOTI wouldn’t be able to cope with the demand and the MV Isle of Mull will be deployed to Tiree on Friday (4th) and Monday (7th May). It is still unclear as to whether this redeployment of a slightly bigger vessel will be able to accommodate all current bookings.

With limited vessels available at their disposal, I think it is fair to say that Cal Mac have done the best job possible in deploying their fleet around the various island routes. Tiree has mostly coped being serviced by the LOTI which has 65% less capacity then the Clansman. However, we are still left hugely frustrated when travel over peak weekends and island events is disrupted and affected due to failure of advance planning from Cal Mac. It is fair to say that communication from the company has not been sufficient, with various last-minute decisions being made and complaints from customers who have been given little warning of changes to their bookings.

Finlay MacRae commented on the recent booking system issue that was raised by Tiree residents, stating: “We have also been having some issues with the reservations system, largely caused by a huge volume of ship and timetable changes driven through the system over the last week, and some sailing availability was not replicating to the internet correctly, but was available via port or contact centre. This has now been rectified, but if we can suggest that where sailings online are showing as not available please double check with us at the port or by the contact number in case there are any further system issues. Grateful thanks to those who brought some of the reservations system issues to our attention.”

All issues are being closely monitored by Tiree Community Council and the Tiree Transport forum who are keeping in touch with various representatives from Cal Mac and also continue to lobby island minister Michael Russell and Transport Minister for the islands, Humza Yousaf.

Your Community’s Council

There was another good turnout for the last meeting of the Community Council on the 4th of November in An Talla.

We welcomed our two new members: Iona Campbell from Baugh, and Sam Bouchnak from Scarinish, who was the only applicant to put himself forward when we put out a public appeal last month.

One of the main topics was a detailed report on the possible ferry timetable for next summer. There has been some hard bargaining between John MacCaskill and Ian Gillies on the one side for the Tiree Transport Forum, with Cal-Mac and Transport Scotland on the other. Tiree’s argument has been that the island was being given less ferry space than other islands, and that we had had no increase in sailings when RET flooded the Tiree route a few years ago. The draft timetable now has all morning boats leaving Oban at 7.15am; the Tuesday sailing restored to 2.45pm; the Barra connection moved to the Wednesday; and for two boats to come out on Saturdays during the summer season, leaving Oban at 7am and 3.30pm. There are some extra fuel costs that will need the approval of the Scottish Government, and it’s by no means a done deal yet. The Council formally voted to back the proposal.

We also talked about the forthcoming Islands Bill, which is up for consultation. We can all see that Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles are well organised when it comes to lobbying Edinburgh. Scotland’s other scattered islands are easily forgotten, especially the 23 inhabited islands within Argyll and Bute. During last year’s referendum Edinburgh grew nervous that Shetland would declare independence by itself, and the moment is right for Scotland’s islands to push for more resources. Ian Gillies is leading the fight for the ‘forgotten islands’.

Some members of the Community Council met with Stokes Memorials regarding Dr Buchanan’s monument. We all walked up to the remains of the monument itself and then down to the quarry to inspect the broken pieces. Stokes are now going to price up an amended scheme to use the existing granite to re-build a shorter pillar, as well as a scheme to make a cast-iron structure. We’ll take these plans back to a Council meeting for a decision, in tandem with Professor Donald Meek who has led the project, and then look for funding.

We had a private Councillors’ meeting a fortnight ago to thrash out new procedures. We agreed it had been so useful that we will hold one every month, in-between public Council meetings. These private meetings are closed to the public, but we do have to report back to the next open meeting in general terms what we have been discussing. The public meetings remain the place where all major decisions will be made.

We discussed our planning procedure too. We will only become involved at the stage when the project reaches the public planning list, if we think the project will affect most islanders, or if it’s a really groundbreaking building. Our job then will be to find out what people think, possibly by calling a meeting or having an on-line questionnaire, and then sending these opinions to the Council planning department. Most building projects won’t involve us at all. Our role is to reflect your opinions. We did agree that islanders could write to us with their thoughts and we would keep their identities confidential if they requested this. Enormous projects, like another wind farm, will definitely involve us from the start.

The Council is planning £9 million pounds worth of cuts this year, with the same again next. They have distributed questionnaires (available at the Crossapol office and on-line at www.argyll-bute.gov.uk/forms/planning-our-future-public-consultation) to ask where we would like the cuts to fall. Some people thought we should fill these in, to show what services we valued most, but quite a few others said we should have nothing to do with it – Tiree was a community on the edge, and any cuts were completely unacceptable. The Council have agreed in principle to send an official and a Councillor out to hold a public meeting on the island about this, and we will let you know when that is. We will need a huge turnout at that.

We agreed to take over the organising of the War Memorial service from next year. We also agreed that we would write to the local Housing Associations to ask if we could encourage a family of refugees to come and live in one of their unused properties on the island.

Rosemary Omand, Alison Kennedy, Dr John Holliday, Iona Campbell and Donnie Campbell were in attendance.

Extra 2.5mil for island freight ferry fares

cargo containers

Following the meeting last week in Edinburgh with hauliers from the Western Isles and Tiree, the Scottish Government has announced an extra £2.5m in subsidised funding for freight traffic on island ferry routes. This is in addition to the extra help previously announced meaning that all vehicles up to six metres would qualify for RET.

Transport minister Keith Brown said the move was designed to bring fares for all hauliers into line and ensure no fares rise by more than 50% in a single year. The government said it would also lobby Westminster on issues that fell beyond its remit and work on a six-month study into the broader impact of its ferry fares policy.

The extra funding will cover ferry services to Coll, Tiree and the Western Isles. Mr Brown said “We are determined to support our island and remote communities and underlined this last week with new arrangements for small commercial vehicles qualifying for RET on routes to Western Isles, Coll and Tiree. Today we are providing more evidence of our commitment in support of those communities and all hauliers serving those communities. I had a constructive meeting with hauliers last week and one particular concern raised was that previous discount schemes had benefited some hauliers more than others. By capping the rises all hauliers on any given route will pay the same. Our ambition is to see greater connectivity right across the Western Isles, Coll and Tiree, and our pilot has shown the scheme to have had a very positive impact on local economies.”

More News On RET And Hauliers

cargo containers

Graham Laidlaw of Transport Scotland Ferries Unit flew into Tiree on the morning of Monday 30th January with Cllr Mary-Jean Devon and Cllr Roddy McCuish of Argyll & Bute Council, to meet 20 or so delegates representing the crofting, fishing, construction, retail, tourism and haulage sectors on Tiree and Coll.

The purpose of Mr Laidlaw’s visit was to listen to the islanders’ views on the government decision to remove commercial vehicles from the existing RET scheme. Mr Laidlaw left the island with a petition of 233 signatures.
In a well prepared, composed meeting, the Tiree community made its view clear that this decision will be ‘catastrophic’ for the economies of Tiree and Coll and will leave these fragile islands at ‘breaking point’ with unmanageable increases in costs for businesses and individuals.

Fuel prices, already 25ppl higher than the mainland will go up by another 1.25ppl. Tommy Barbour fuels has been quoted an increase in his ferry ticket from £214.80 to £370.80 for a tanker of fuel to the island. The cost of exporting livestock, the backbone of Tiree’s economy, will increase by 103%. Donald Morrison of United Auctions advised that this is going to make it very difficult to keep customers coming to the island to buy livestock. Small fishing businesses and croft businesses stand to lose £5 – 7 thousand a year. Iain MacKinnon of I.A. MacKinnon Haulage advised that the price of an articulated lorry carrying general goods will double. These costs will be passed onto customers increasing prices of building and agricultural supplies, coal, food and so forth.

Contrary to the government’s justification for its decision that ‘savings from RET have not been passed on by hauliers’ and ‘haulage is largely insensitive to RET’, there is a united view across all sectors that this is not the case. There was unanimous agreement that without RET freight prices would have escalated alongside the increasing costs associated with the industry. Tiree builder Angus MacKinnon pointed out to Mr Laidlaw that freight to Tiree and Coll is ‘ring-fenced’ and not driven by the price of the ferry tickets. Hauliers working on this route are providing life-line services carrying essential goods such as fuel, food and animal feed and exports of shell-fish and livestock. Councillor Mary-Jean Devon pointed out that she was ‘amazed that the government even expected there to be an increase in freight volume due to RET’. It was pointed out that whilst tourist traffic has increased during the RET pilot, tourist spending had not. Tiree was ‘full’ in the high season before RET and is still full. RET has encouraged the same number of visitors to bring extra or larger vehicles and trailers.

The notion in the Draft Ferries Report that tourism has seen the greatest benefit from RET has not been properly researched and the statement is distorted. Proposals put to Mr Laidlaw at the conclusion of the meeting were:

  • Ministers could simply instruct CalMac to increase fares across the board by a modest percentage to claw back the £2 million shortfall in the budget for RET.
  • That the implementation of the proposal be postponed pending full consultation on how the decision will affect the island economies.

Alan Reid, MP for Argyll & Bute has decribed the Scottish Government’s plans as ‘Outrageous ’. He told An Tirisdeach
“they are robbing Peter to pay Paul. I have written to Scottish Transport Minister Keith Brown pointing out that his proposals will increase the cost of living substantially on the affected islands. I have urged him not to go ahead with these proposals”.

Professor Neil Kay, an Economist at Strathclyde University said that the Scottish Government’s policy on cheap ferry fares is economically illiterate and misguided. He said
“What is the point of offering a shop assistant cheap fares to the mainland if she cannot afford those fares because the business she worked for has just gone bust? You do not need an economist to answer that question – just common sense. No self-respecting economist would support RET as a device to get fares down.”