Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP, Angus MacNeil is again highlighting the reckless decision taken by the majority of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar councillors to cut the inter-island flight from Barra to Benbecula and reduce the service between Benbecula and Stornoway. This follows passenger number figures from Highlands and Islands Airports (HIAL), which show a drop in passenger numbers for the month of May.
HIAL figures show substantial decreases in passenger number at Barra, Benbecula and Stornoway airports.
Speaking after the publication of these shocking HIAL passenger figures since Comhairle nan Eilean Siar councillors chose to axe flights between the islands, Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP, Angus MacNeil said:
“I warned that the decision taken by councillors, to axe flights from Benbecula to Barra and reducing the number of flights between Benbecula and Stornoway was a retrograde step.
“The HIAL figures unsurprisingly illustrate openly the predictable damage councillors were doing to the more vulnerable islands in the Hebrides.
“Again I am speaking more in sorrow than in anger, however is has to be plainly put, these figures show the dramatic reduction in passenger numbers are a damning indictment of the reckless choice councillors took. They were told this at the time but unfortunately, they chose to put their hands over their ears. Unsurprising Barra, the island Comhairle nan Eilean Siar hammered most by reducing 100% of its inter island flights, has seen a staggering 30% reduction in passenger numbers. Benbecula, which lost 40% of its flights to Stornoway, has seen a jaw dropping 13% reduction in passengers and to a lesser extent, Stornoway has also suffered.
“Comhairle nan Eilean Siar receive extra money from the Scottish Government for this service. This hammer blow has to be the worst transportation damage done in the Hebrides in most of our lifetimes. This decision was taken by councillors within a year of election, without any mandate and without telling people this was what they were going to do before the election. Given the figures for Barra, the most fragile of our islands, at the very least Comhairle nan Eilean Siar should look to restoring that service to a level similar to Benbecula and Stornoway.
“I am surprised that Comhairle nan Eilean Siar have not got a taskforce underway, to fight the obvious damage this is doing because if this had been any other body or agency, causing this level of economic damage by choosing austerity, the Comhairle I would hope, would not be so passive.
“I do not like being this tough on the Comhairle, but they have to hear it as it is, communities have to come first. I would appeal to the Comhairle to be big enough to admit that they have made a mistake, after all, we all make mistakes and in the first instance, they should treat all islands equally. Washing their hands Pontius Pilate style and carrying on with their hands still over their ears would continue to be a sad a depressing state of affairs.”
NOTES: see below HIAL press release.