Isles MP writes to First Minister and National Clinical Director to assist with Ferry Capacity

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil has written to Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister and Jason Leitch, National Clinical Director to urgently look at increasing the percentage of passengers who can travel on CalMac Ferries.

It is expected that all physical distancing requirements will be removed on 9th August and Mr MacNeil is again calling on the Scottish Government to increase capacity prior to this date to help ease the pressure on island ferries.

Commenting Mr MacNeil said:

“Due to Covid restrictions, ferry capacity is a major problem on all islands and we urgently need an increase on the amount of people that can travel.  The problem is exacerbated on the Lewis service at the moment due to the fact that the MV Arrow has broken down and also with HIAL strike action coming this week due to the removal of important island jobs to Inverness.

“The demand on travel is so high compared to the artificially low 35% threshold.  Given that expectations are that 100% capacity will be reinstated on 9th August, if capacity was increased to 70% or 75% this week it would greatly help the difficulties in all islands on the west coast.

“We need to have governance close at hand and responsive this summer and I hope the First Minister and the National Clinical Director are alive to the issues on the west coast.”


MP responds on Ferry Capacity

Angus MacNeil MP is urging the Scottish Government to react more quickly given the constraints on ferries. 

This follows receipt of a letter from Transport Minister, Graeme Dey MSP which states that the Scottish Government are not contemplating looking at ferry capacity until 9th August.

Commenting Mr MacNeil said:

“I know there is a lot of frustration and difficulty for people trying to get a booking on ferries.  This is the peak summer season and by 9th August the demand will have eased.  I would therefore urge the Scottish Government to look at the range of factors and to review ferry capacity restrictions with their civil servants to see if an earlier change is possible. It would be silly to reach August and say things could have changed 3 weeks ago but that the Government didn’t get round to checking in the intervening period.  We are at the crunch point right now.

“At present trans-minch ferries are running at an average of 35% capacity, CalMac tell me. I’m not suggesting the 100% that is being hinted for the 9th of August but meantime somewhere sensibly in between so islanders can at least come and go.

“It does seem strange that planes can fly as full as they ever were, but ferry capacity is restricted.  This is leading to huge difficulties on the islands, we have been at level zero for a long time now.  I am writing back to the Transport Minister on these terms as I know that CalMac are prepared to implement increased capacity sooner than 9th August if Government guidance allows.”


Isles MP urges Scottish Government to increase ferry capacity

As Scotland moves to Level zero on July 19, and physical distance requirements will reduce from 2m to 1m in indoor public places, Isles MP Angus B MacNeil is calling for urgent changes to be made to increase ferry capacity.

Commenting Mr MacNeil said:

“Our ferries are a lifeline service and steps must be taken now to increase capacity.

“Surely, as physical distancing requirements are being reduced on  July 19, this will allow CalMac to increase capacity on our ferries.

“I am today contacting Health Secretary Humza Yousaf MSP, Jason Leitch, National Clinical Director and Transport Scotland to urgently address this situation.

Isles MP speaks at Westminster Fisheries Debate

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus B MacNeil yesterday participated in a Westminster cross-party debate on the impact that the EU exit deal is having on the fishing industry.

Commenting Angus MacNeil MP said:

“The difficulties faced by the Scottish fishing industry because of the Brexit deal continue to hit our fishing industry and I was glad to have had the opportunity to participate in this debate.

“I highlighted the deal Norway currently has, a deal which has a detrimental impact on the fishing industry. The UK government has given the Norwegians the greater part of our market overnight and achieved nothing in return for fishermen.

“I also highlighted the delay with the £100 million scheme that was promised by the UK Government in January, nearly seven months later, fishermen are still waiting. The UK Government needs to move quickly and deliver on their promise to help our fishing industry which is caught up in bureaucracy as a result of the Brexit deal.

“Prior to Brexit, three-quarters of Scottish fishermen’s exports went to the European Union, but there has been an almost exponential rise in costs. As an example, Barratlantic, a local fish factory in my constituency, tell me that where a delivery note used to suffice, it now needs a catch certificate, packing lists and commodity codes, scientific names on consignments, a commercial invoice and an import and export declaration form, a staggering eight pieces of paper before it starts exporting. In addition, this fish factory pays the French Government VAT at 5.5%, and it also needs a health certificate.

“Export costs to get a product to the continent has trebled from 32p per kilo to around £1 a kilo. Whereas consignments could be sent in three to four pallets, they now have to be sent in pallet loads of 10 to make matters viable and economical, this affects the bottom line of many businesses.

“The Government really have to look quickly at ways of streamlining exports and along with Luke Pollard MP and Alistair Carmichael MP, I have been in touch with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on several occasions to try to get these matters streamlined so that multiple data entries and paperwork are not required. Some things could and should be digitised to enable the transfer of data from one place to the other without the onerous time.”


Scalpay back online after community call in MP for help

Residents on Scalpay are back online after nearly two months of service disruption.

Scalpay Community Council contacted Angus MacNeil MP to alert him to the disruption faced by around 20 households who were affected by an ongoing broadband problem.

The disruption to service was causing problems for those working from home due to Covid-19 restrictions and for local businesses.

Kenny Macleod, Secretary of Scalpay Community Council, and one of those affected, said: “After weeks of being given different stories and being told it was fixed, we got in touch with our MP, Mr MacNeil, and are very grateful for his intervention which has undoubtedly speeded up the resolution of our problems.  If he hadn’t intervened and got the engineers onto the ferry, we would probably still be waiting for it to be fixed. 

“We are all hugely dependant on a good, reliable internet connection and not having it for so long caused lots of problems. Hopefully now these are resolved.”

Mr MacNeil had contacted Openreach to try to push forward a solution and was very pleased when it was confirmed to him that a team was set to travel to the island imminently to work on this issue.

Openreach then contacted Mr MacNeil for assistance due to the difficulties they were facing in securing a ferry booking to the island and Mr MacNeil then contacted Calmac to stress the urgency of the situation and a ferry booking was made.

A team carried out works and although not all issues have been overcome, households have now been reconnected.

The engineers replaced the dishes on the 18Ghz radio link at both ends, but they are still waiting on parts for the 32g link which need to be replaced.

Additional works are due to be carried out to increase speeds when parts arrive, however Openreach state there are no live faults in this area and services are now operating as normal.

Openreach are also looking at providing additional weatherproofing to try and stop the problems occurring again.

Mr MacNeil said: “I am very pleased that I was able to assist the community on Scalpay in moving towards a resolution to this problem which was causing disruption to everyday life and was understandably frustrating for residents.

“I cannot fix all problems which constituents raise with me, but I would encourage people to get in touch and I will do all I can to assist.”

MP urges EU citizens to apply to Settlement Scheme

Angus MacNeil MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar is urging any constituent who is an EU citizen to ensure they have applied to the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) before the deadline of June 30.

Irish citizens and people with indefinite leave to remain do not have to apply but all other EU citizens must apply to the scheme to continue living or working in Scotland.

Both adults and children need to apply.

Mr MacNeil said: “It is the Scottish Government’s view that EU citizens should not need to apply to protect the right they already have to live, work and study here but the UK Government has made it a requirement.

“The deadline is the end of this month and so I would urge any constituent who is an EU citizen who has not already done so, to apply.”

Scotland’s Europe Minister Jenny Gilruth has requested that the UK Government make a series of urgent changes to the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) – including extending the 30 June deadline.

Full details on how to apply can be found here:

HIAL jobs – MacNeil meets with Transport Scotland Auditors

SNP MP Angus MacNeil has met with Transport Scotland auditors to discuss the proposals that HIAL have to remove jobs from the islands to centralise in Inverness, which has an extra cost to the public purse of £2 million each and every year going forward.

Commenting Angus MacNeil said:

“I had a fruitful discussion with Transport Scotland Auditors today to understand what role they will play in this process. They will audit the Scottish Government and Transport Scotland’s costs of HIAL’s project, but they cannot intervene as such. They are referees rather than active players.

“This is the first time I have met auditors about government expenditure. This shows how concerned I am about the obvious waste of public money coming down the track.

“One thing I was anxious to impress was that we don’t want a result on this afterwards which says that this is going to cost an awful lot more, once the jobs have been removed from the islands and HIAL have completed community vandalism in the islands. Hopefully, common sense will prevail and the cheaper options that have been put forward by air traffic controllers themselves and the union Prospect, will be looked at as options.

“Hopefully, this is something the Transport Minister, Graeme Day, will look at. It would be a great feather in his cap if he can save the government £2 million each and every year. It would also reassure the communities. We don’t want to see something which is technically questionable, which might cause staff turnover, and which has no legislative basis from the UK Government, yet will cause community damage and a cost to the government. That is at least five good reasons why this should not be going ahead.”

Isles MP welcomes move to lease extra vessel – but suggests a tunnel could be a vision for the future

Na h-Eileananan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil has welcomed the confirmation from the Scottish Government that they are in discussions regarding the lease of an additional vessel for the Calmac fleet – but stresses that the option of a subsea tunnel should also be considered.

Mr MacNeil has written several times this year to the Scottish Government regarding the ageing Calmac fleet with repeated suggestions to charter MV Pentalina and has also suggested the construction of new vessels in Gdansk in Poland.

Mr MacNeil said: “I welcome that the Scottish Government is in discussions in regard to leasing an additional vessel. This is something which I have been suggesting and pressing the Scottish Government on for the last six months. I have recently heard that the Pentalina may need a not inconsiderable spend to get her into condition for even trials on the West Coast – hopefully that can be cleared up.

“The disruption to ferry services is having a massive impact on all aspects of island life and the economy.

“I welcome this step forward and hope that we will see progress very soon.

“It should be borne in mind that £500m used as 25% to lever in investment capital could build about 200km of Faroes-style undersea ferry replacement tunnels.

“Transport Scotland and the Minister should seriously look into this and at the very least speak with Faroese counterparts for learning.”

MacNeil welcomes newly appointed Transport and Islands Ministers

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP, Angus MacNeil has welcomed Graeme Dey MSP as Transport Minister and Mairi Gougeon MSP as Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands – at a time when two huge transport issues are hanging over the islands.

Commenting Angus MacNeil said:

“Clearly the islands have to be protected by maintaining the HIAL jobs and saving the public purse a lot of money.

“I would look to both Ministers to engage fully with this issue and not to let HIAL empire build in Inverness at the expense of communities.  That as well as the need to make sure we have a decent ferry supply in the coming years and looking at all yards in and out of Scotland. 

“There is plenty to keep them busy and I hope to see both in the islands this summer to discuss matters with the local community. 

“I also welcome Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s plan for ferries but we should keep our minds open about tunnels where we could use the ferry money in a number of inventive ways to ensure we have fixed links at all times.  These things are possible if there is the political will as the Faroe Islands have shown.”


Is Gdańsk the answer for islands shipping troubles?

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP, Angus MacNeil has said that all possible options need to be investigated to fill the islands ferry problems given the latest problems with the Loch Seaforth’s late return to service.  Mr MacNeil is also suggesting that another boat be built in Gdańsk for the fleet of CalMac vessels on the west coast of Scotland.

Commenting Angus MacNeil said:

“There is a problem with the CalMac fleet on the west coast of Scotland.  The MV Loch Seaforth was built in Germany and launched 7 years ago and is currently out of service, having had numerous problems since coming into service. The newest boat previous to that MV Finlaggan launched 11 years ago, was built in Gdańsk in Poland.

“We need to get other boats in play sooner rather than later.  The problems on the Clyde are well documented, there are many promises but it seems that nobody in Transport Scotland, CMAL or CalMac are confident of when the Glen Sannox might arrive to ease the problems.

“The CalMac fleet is ageing and the Pentalina apparently requires work before it can even be trialled.  Perhaps given the number of boats that are going to be needed consideration should be given to going back to Gdańsk where the Finlaggan was built or to Flensburger in Germany.  Other boats will be required even if the Glen Sannox and Hull 802 are completed. 

“The Finlaggan cost in the region of £25 million in 2010 and it was suggested at the time that Gdańsk could have built another one for about 85% of that cost, having familiarised themselves with the job, however, I’m sure that is not the case today.  The Loch Seaforth was £42 million four years later, it was indeed a bigger boat but one way or another we are going to need quite a number of boats over the next few years.  

“Unfortunately, with the current problems we have we are probably going to need quite a few yards building and therefore it may be time to look to Poland or other ship building nations to provide the vessels we need.  We will need a number of vessels if we are going to prevent further summers of restricted capacity due to the ageing fleet and the problems this brings.

“There are a plethora of organisations involved in this between CalMac, CMAL and Transport Scotland but one way or another, we have to cut through that forest and get boats sailing on the west coast and that means that we should be using yards with a track record in building this kind of ship.”