EDIT NOTE: This post and much of the information in it, and the comments made to the post, have now been overtaken by changing events – and much may be obsolete. Please bear this in mind, and we’d encourage comments to be referred to more recent posts rather than continuing discussion here.
Below follows a copy of a letter (emphasis added here to highlight the key points) that the members of the Tiree Community Council agreed to send regarding the situation with ferry capacity and the implications of a potential resumption of tourism to the island this year and, in particular, the impact this could have on islander travel and family visitation. The letter was based on our most recent understanding of expected ferry capacity and restrictions to date (14th June 2020). Note: these could have seen the maximum safe passenger capacity of the Clansman technically as low as 65 for individual travellers, but the latest figure published by CalMac is 86, allowing for some travelling together. The current discussion is to try to move as close as possible to a Winter timetable, but that it is unlikely to be increased to a full summer timetable due to staffing issues and ongoing restrictions and safeguards.
Michael Matheson, MSP
Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity
14 June 2020
Dear Cabinet Secretary,
Although Tiree Community Council has been unable to hold a physical public
meeting for two months, our June Zoom public meeting attracted 44 households,
and we believe that, given these constraints, we are able present the views and
feelings of islanders in a broad sense.
It seems clear from the most recent CalMac estimates that there will be severe
capacity constraints on the Oban-Coll-Tiree ferry this summer, even after the
introduction of the winter timetable with four boats a week.
On the one hand social distancing guidelines will reduce the maximum passenger
capacity, while crewing constraints will effectively halve the number of ferries. On
the other hand, there are historic bookings for this summer already accepted by
CalMac – many voided but not cancelled – and a large pent-up demand from
islanders who want to re-unite with their families. While families on the mainland
have been able to see each other to some extent under the Phase 1 easing, this
opportunity has not been extended to Tiree due to the continued emergency travel
restrictions on the ferry.
The most pressing problem we see is that islanders and their families will find it very
difficult to get a ferry booking bookings in the peak season of July and August. This is
due to both historic bookings, and increased demand from new visitors wanting a “staycation”. This could result in islanders and their families effectively being unable
to meet, while having to watch as tourists travel to and from the island.
Our sense is that the large majority of islanders supported the restrictions placed on
ferry travel to date. Indeed, there are many who want to see this continue through
the summer, given that the proportion of elderly in the community is higher than the
Scottish average; that the 653 people on Tiree now welcome over 30,000 visitors a
year; and the fact that infectious disease spreads particularly rapidly in a small
However, tourism is one of the four pillars of the island’s economy, and the likely
reduced ferry capacity must severely impact these businesses’ chance of survival
through the winter. We join others in urgently calling for another round of funding
to support island businesses who are unable to trade their way out of this crisis
because of ferry restrictions that are no fault of their own. We are aware of a letter
to ministers on the same matter from many members of the Tiree business
We recognise that you and other members of the Scottish Government have some
hard choices to make. We would like you to consider cancelling historic CalMac
bookings on the Oban-Coll-Tiree route until demand eases, possibly September. This
would allow everyone to make a fresh start. We also support the temporary
annulment of the contract requirement to honour bookings on a first-come-first-
served basis, and replace this with a managed system to satisfy fairly the competing
demands of essential services and goods, islanders, family and visitors, and also to
adjudicate between the competing demand of Coll and Tiree.
If you live on an island, you live with travel restriction. But what we want to see is a
managed system that is fair to all the competing demands, placing islanders at the
heart of the matter.
Dr John Holliday, Convenor, on behalf of Tiree Community Council
cc. Kate Forbes, MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Finance
Michael Russell, MSP
18/06/2020: We have updated the information for max passenger numbers and expected timetable changes at the top of this page due to further information from CalMac.
On Thursday 11th June a group of tourism business owners contacted 34 tourism related businesses on the island asking them to support an appeal to the Scottish Government for further financial support for their businesses over the winter months should the ferry service and capacities were to be restricted over the remainder of the tourist season.
They received 21 endorsements from businesses in the leisure, accommodation, catering , retail and craft sectors. The letter was sent to Mike Russell (SNP MSP for Argyll and Bute), Fergus Ewing (Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy) and Paul Wheelhouse (Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands)’
This effort was provided with facilitation support by TCC to ensure the voice of businesses was being heard, but sent out in the name of the businesses involved only – is not therefore our letter to share, and we understand the signatories were not asked if it was OK for it to be published openly.
17/06/2020: Here follows an excerpt from First Ministers Questions at Scottish Parliament on 17th June:
- 5. Dr Alasdair Allan (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP):
To ask the First Minister whether she will provide an update for island residents who wish to book ferry tickets. (S5F-04228)
- The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon):
We are working with ferry operators to identify measures to ensure passenger and crew safety when travelling, while observing 2m distancing on vessels. Capacity will obviously be reduced by the measures, but we are putting in place plans to manage that. That work includes consideration of how the booking systems of CalMac Ferries and NorthLink Ferries might be used to help to manage demand. Further details will be available in the transport transition plan and from the operators, as we move through the phases of easing lockdown.
- Dr Allan:
As the First Minister is aware, many islanders have not seen family members on the mainland since March. They have strongly supported the travel restrictions, but are now anxious to know that they will, whenever it is considered safe to change the current travel advice about ferries, have the opportunity to book what will be a very limited supply of ferry tickets, perhaps on a priority basis. Can the Government take steps to avoid new pressures on reduced services and capacity meaning that islanders do not get to see their families until after any tourist season is over?
- The First Minister:
I fully understand how important it is that islanders be able to access the lifeline ferry services on which, of course, they depend for getting to and from the mainland—in particular, to see their families. They rightly want to enjoy the same freedoms that others will be able to start enjoying as we ease out of lockdown. Like all aspects of the situation, that requires careful consideration to make sure that people can move safely and without risk to themselves and others.
There are practical considerations about safety that mean that capacity will be reduced by the measures that must be in place, which must be managed to ensure that islanders are not disadvantaged. That is a key consideration that CalMac, Transport Scotland and the Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands, Paul Wheelhouse, are looking at.
Crucially, there is, and will continue to be, on-going engagement with island communities to determine the best way forward. The involvement of people who actually live on our islands, including Alasdair Allan and his constituents, is absolutely key.