ARGYLL AND BUTE MSP CALLS ON SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT TO ASSIST IN RESOLUTION OF “UNNECESSARY AND DAMAGING” DISPUTE
The MSP for Argyll & Bute Michael Russell has demanded that Argyll & Bute Council secure the immediate restoration of lifeline air services to Coll, Tiree and Colonsay, which are to be suspended from 16th May as a result of a failure of the Council to negotiate a new contract with Hebridean Air Services.
Hebridean Air Services were forced to give notice of suspension of their services because of EU rules which meant they would be liable for payments to passengers, if they did not give advance notice to those booked beyond the period for which they are contracted. The company told Argyll & Bute Council two weeks ago that it would have to take this action, but the Council failed to do anything to prevent it happening.
Commenting on the dispute, Mr Russell said:
“I have today written to the Chief Executive of Argyll & Bute Council about this unnecessary and damaging dispute.
“First and foremost, the Council’s failure to secure a deal will mean that the “scholars services” will cease, meaning that many children on the islands will not be able to get home at weekends. That will be deeply upsetting for them and their families, and will affect their studies.
“The regular flights are also vital for islanders, for tourism, for the utility providers like phone and power companies, for local government and for other statutory bodies which send people to the islands on a regular basis.
“I am astonished that the Council has let things get to this stage in negotiations that has been going on for some considerable time, particularly as I understand that the gap between the Council’s position and the company’s position is now very small.
“In addition, I am told that the Council has known about the suspension for a fortnight but has said nothing. The Council then chose to tell those affected by means of an inflammatory and accusatory press release and to say that the services could be restored “next summer” – leaving the possibility of no services for a year or more.
“Colonsay has suffered tremendous ferry disruption in the last month. If its only air link is to be cut as well, then the island will be in desperate straits. Coll is also dependent upon these flights, having no others, and although Tiree has a direct Glasgow link, many islanders have been using these services as a means of going to Oban for urgent business.
“The traffic from Oban has built up over the past few years and is now significant. However, the suspension of these flights leaves the Council-owned airport with no scheduled services at all – which is a completely farcical situation.
“In addition to contacting the Council and speaking to Hebridean Air Services, I have also tabled a Topical Question in the Parliament and I hope it will be called this week. To supplement that, I have this morning been in touch with the Transport Minister and I understand his officials are currently looking for ways in which they can assist in resolving this dispute. However, this is a problem that should never have happened, and Argyll and Bute Council need to sort it now. Waiting a year would be totally unacceptable and deeply destructive for the islands, and all those who live there.”