The situation with regards to easing of lockdown, how it will affect Tiree and ferry capacity remains rapid-moving and it has been challenging for TCC to pull together a summary without it immediately going out of date. We have been continuing to engage and make enquiries throughout the past week, including a Zoom call meeting with Michael Russell MSP and various conversations with CalMac and other officials. We have also been following various news reports, and of course the most recent updates issued by the First Minister.
Here is the situation as we currently understand it – please note that this is an attempt to usefully summarise current information, may become out of date at any point, and you should always check the latest updates when making any plans:
1) Currently family and friend visits involving travel to or from Tiree and staying overnight can effectively only be made by ferry under the provisions of an “extended household” – i.e. a single person or a person with children under 18 can form an “extended household” with one other household, and travel would be permitted in either direction for this purpose. This is because currently the restriction is that such visits must be outdoors, and not overnight – so unless you have another means of travel that can facilitate a day-trip, you can’t do it within the guidelines.
2) From 29th of June second home owners are allowed to visit “for the purposes of conducting essential repairs or checks”. Staying overnight is only meant to be for as long as repairs take. However it is “expected” that full use of second homes which do not have “shared facilities” can resume from 3rd July. Reference: https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-second-homes-guidance/
3) From 3rd of July self catering holiday homes/caravans which are “self-contained” and do not include use of “shared facilities” can re-open, and visitors can come to Tiree to make use of them.
4) From 15th of July the rest of holiday lets and accommodations are expected to be able to open (i.e. B&Bs and hotels, or self-catering with shared facilities)
5) There currently seems to be a lack of clarity on if overnight stays for visits will be permissible in general after July 10th, when indoor visits are to be allowed for two households, other than under the “extended household” provision.
In terms of ferry capacity and policy:
The latest update on timetables and bookings from CalMac: https://www.calmac.co.uk/covid19/calmac-latest-update-26-june-2020
This states that there will be a four-a-week service from July 1st to July 14th, and that bookings for this period will open at 9am on June 30th. We also understand that due to incoming construction freight there is expected to be an additional sailing on Sunday 5th and 12th July. Bookings are currently expected to open on a two week cycle thereafter, with an updated timetable to come for the period July 15th into October. This would appear to raise possible issues for people wishing to travel in one direction during one such period, while not being able to book a return trip in a following period.
Following our representations on this issue, we have previously been assured by our constituency representative Michael Russell MSP (and similar assurances have been sought on our behalf by regional representative John Finnie MSP), that the intention is for there to be some provision for a priority system for islanders, so that those wishing to travel will not simply find that all spaces are already booked up due to bookings made prior to these new arrangements (or prior even to the pandemic). UPDATE (June 28th): This does not appear to have been done for the booking window which is now opening up. We are yet to receive any explanation why.
As of today however we are still unclear as to if and how this will happen. Options could include those with existing bookings having to re-book, while residents also have the opportunity to book – and it’d just be a case of scrambling to get in first and being lucky. Another option would be for some sort of division of available spaces, with some reserved for islanders to have a chance to book first.
We continue to make a call for this to be resolved and to that end recently released an open letter to Robert Morrison, Managing Director at Calmac:
To be absolutely clear, as previously, TCC are not calling for tourists to be barred from coming – rather that the needs of residents have to be considered and a fair provision made to give those of us who wish to the opportunity to safely take advantage of the easing lockdown restrictions.
Until we get clarity on what provisions if any for priority booking will be available we can only suggest that if islanders have a need to travel between July 1st and 15th they be prepared to seek to arrange a booking promptly as soon as Calmac opens them up, starting at 9am on June 30th!
UPDATE (June 28th): It appears to now be clear that existing bookings are being allocated to available capacity on the basis of earliest booked first – with no capacity being kept aside for residents/on the day bookings/etc. Some boats are being reported as already fully booked, before the option to place new bookings has even opened.
With regards to flights, Loganair are now operating a timetable of one flight a day, shared with Barra, until July 15th. Thereafter the flight will be shared with Campbeltown. A new timetable is expected from August 3rd.
UPDATE (July 1st): We received the following response from Robert Morrison at Calmac:
Thank you for your E mail of 25th June.
We are facing a number of challenges in managing the varying phases of lockdown and facing competing priorities with regards to islander view, tourism views, commercial views. At the same time working very closely with Transport Scotland and the Scottish Government in order to ensure our service offering mirrors Scot Gov expectations.
With regards to your specific questions I can confirm as follows,
1/Historic bookings will where possible be honoured first and additional space available will then be opened up to allow booking. The space will be based on Commercial block bookings for essential supplies, remaining space will be 80% advance booking and 20 % for on the day.
2/ We will allow 80% of the vessel space to be made available for advance booking and will retain 20% for on-the- day. This will provide for the kind of bookings that cannot be accounted for in advance. A good example here being patient hospital transfers etc. This space will be usable for local Islanders also. It should also be noted that some of pre-booked travel being honoured will also include local Islander bookings.
3/ Our Contract operates on a first come first served basis and we have been asked to open bookings in a similar way. In other words allow space to be made available on an equivalent way. I can appreciate your points around islanders looking to travel and I can only say that the best method is to ensure a booking is made. We will move to booking for foot passengers and vehicles. Whilst there will be opportunity to secure some space on the day the best and safest means will be to secure the advance booking. Tickets will be available to book on a rolling 14day basis so providing the return travel is within the same rolling 14 day window it should be possible to book the return.
Finally, we will continue to do our best to help to manage impact on the islands and whilst we are clearly very challenged by the impacts of the 2 M social distancing, we will continue to support the communities as much as possible.
I hope this info is of help.
Calmac Ferries Ltd
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.
The First Minister announced a website set up by Scottish Government seeking input on a “framework for decision making” in response to COVID-19. Individual members of the public and community groups and organisations can submit ideas.
This includes proposed changes and options about:
- staying at home
- visiting other households
- resuming care and support for those most affected by the current restrictions
- businesses that have been subject to restrictions or closure
- allowing pupils to return to school
The First Minister Nicola Sturgeon emphasised the need for transparency when she launched the framework and invited the people of Scotland to engage in this conversation to help us take the next steps to navigate to a new normal.
Our first public meeting of the Community Council since this situation began was held on May 6th, and the deadline is on May 11th so there is little time left for TCC to develop a full response to this on behalf of the community – but we are looking at doing what we can. However we’d encourage anyone with thoughts to submit these as an individual:
The site can be found here: https://www.ideas.gov.scot/covid-19-a-framework-for-decision-making
Normally, official meetings of a Community Council must be held “in public” and no decisions should take place at any other meeting. TCC routinely has what we call “agenda meetings” where the councillors get together ahead of the proper meetings just to go over what needs to be covered – but we don’t take decisions on action at them, any course of action we discuss is presented at a public meeting and formally agreed there.
However due to the unprecedented situation with COVID-19, and the need for pretty immediate action to be taken by TCC to respond, the councillors did have to meet twice via Zoom in mid March, and early April, and those meetings did involve agreeing on some emergency actions, including the eventual organisation of our first public meeting via video conference.
In the interests of transparency, the minutes of these meetings are posted below. Now that we have a means of holding on-line meetings in public, normal service has resumed!