Commenting on the future of the air service operating between Barra, Benbecula and Stornoway, Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus B MacNeil said:
“A reduction of any kind to the air service between Barra, Benbecula and Stornoway would be a backward step for our islands.
“Comhairle nan Eilean Siar receive a block grant from the Scottish Government each year, and the need to subsidise these air services is specifically factored in when arriving at a figure. The Government then trusts councils as to how they want to make local decisions about how that money is spent. However, the air service money is an anomaly as the council only has this because it runs entirely within the council area and without an air service in the past this money would not be available now. Therefore, I hope that the Comhairle honours the spirit of this and ensure they do not penalise the most rural of islanders.
“I do appreciate that ring fencing of this money has been removed but I feel that the Comhairle have a moral obligation to use this money on what it was intended for. Otherwise, the signal they will be sending to the Scottish Government is that they do not think transport subsidy is important. This would be a very dangerous road to go down, to signal that an island council does not value or understand the need for transport subsidies to the lesser populated areas of the islands.
“In the Orkney Islands, as we saw in a recent BBC Alba documentary planes are operating to very small islands. The Faroes Islands have a helicopter service for islands with one or 2 people in their archipelago, that is a signal that they value the importance of providing lifeline air services.
“I hope that the Comhairle will take a wider look at air services in general with a view to tying in all services to and from the Western Isles.
“With the Comhairle due to vote on this issue on Thursday, I am hoping that this vital air service will be retained.”
Alasdair Allan MSP commented:
“I realise the financial constraints which both the Comhairle and the Scottish Government currently face, but I hope the Comhairle will recognise this week the needs of its most remote communities. There is no doubt that serious cut backs to air services between Barra and Benbecula would have an economic and human impact throughout the Southern Isles. They would also undermine the idea of the Western Isles as a connected unit, something the Comhairle and others have been working hard to build up in recent years.”
Cllr Donald Manford added:
“Councils are provided with significant amounts of public money to provide public services. Chief among them are transport services within the councils own area.
“Historically, money allocation was often specifically identified to the particular service, sometimes even ring fenced. Responding to consistent council requests that they were best placed to know local priorities, the Scottish government agreed to remove ring fencing of the money.”