Island communities affected by poor ferry services have raised their concerns direct with CalMac, thanks to a UK Government summit.

At a meeting on Monday 5 February – convened by Scotland Office Minister John Lamont – community representatives talked about the effects of unreliable services on families, business, and the tourist trade, with warnings the viability of some islands is at risk.

Minister Lamont said

I saw first-hand the problems many islanders are experiencing when I visited Oban, Mull and Arran in the summer. There was clear frustration that their voices were not being heeded and, when I spoke with CalMac Chief Executive Robbie Drummond, I was struck by the opportunity to improve lines of communication between the people who suffer when ferries are out of action, and the major operator of those vessels.

I am very grateful to Mr Drummond for attending today’s meeting, along with his Operations Director Robert Morrison. Discussions were full and frank.

The Scotland Office will now pass information from the meeting to the UK Government, including its Islands Forum. The Forum – part of the Levelling Up agenda – brings together representatives of islands right around Britain, from Shetland to Scilly, to share best practice, and considers a variety of issues, including connectivity.

Minister Lamont said:

Transport in Scotland is devolved to the Scottish Government, and the UK Government respects that. But it would be remiss of me as a Scotland Office Minister if I did not heed the growing chorus of voices alarmed that CalMac’s fleet is ageing, and promised new vessels linger on blocks or the dockyard quay.

It is for the Scottish Government to act to improve the situation for our island communities, but I want to amplify the voices of those I met over the summer.

Attendees at the meeting included CalMac Ferries Communities Board, Colonsay Lifeline Transport Group, Arran Ferry Action Group, Arran Community Development Trust, Mull and Iona Community Trust, Tobermory Harbour Association, key businesses, MSPs and MPs.

Minister Lamont added:

The meeting has, I hope, opened new channels of two-way communication between islanders and CalMac.

Last year it was reported that official figures showed that Scottish Government owned CalMac cancelled 40,989 sailings between September 2018 and April 2023.
Non-weather related cancellations rose from 1,371 in 2017-18 to a peak of 5,805 in 2021-22, before dropping in 2022-23.

There were 4,620 sailings axed for reasons not related to the weather in 2022-23 – 237pc higher than the number in 2017-18.

The roundtable comes as one of the overdue and over budget ferries at Ferguson’s Shipyard at Port Glasgow has suffered another delivery delay. The Glen Sannox is now scheduled to enter service in May – its original delivery date was 2018.

Arran has also suffered a blow with the closure of a berthing facility at Ardrossan used by a relief vessel brought in by CalMac to ease pressure on the key Brodick route.

Published 7 February 2024