Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, or Western Isles Council, has called for Scotland’s next minister of transport to be appointed at the cabinet level.
Currently, the role is a junior ministerial position, with the first minister [Humza Yousaf] being responsible for its appointment. The post holder is overseen by a cabinet secretary (in this instance, the cabinet secretary for net zero and just transition) and is not a member of the Scottish cabinet.
Change is needed to this system, the council has said, due to ‘the critical role of transport in supporting our society’.
Kevin Stewart, former minister for transport in Scotland, stepped down from this position on June 6, citing ’bouts of poor mental health’ as his reason for resignation in a public statement.
Cllr Uisdean Robertson, chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, said: “We in the islands know only too well how central our connectivity is to the sustainability of our communities.
“The recent parlous state in which our ferry services have been left underlines this and shows that we need to show serious leadership in securing and improving our transport networks.
“Transport should not be a junior ministerial portfolio instead the next minister should be appointed at cabinet level and be given every support by the rest of the government to ensure the portfolio is properly funded especially our ferry services.”
The area has recently experienced issues with critical ferry services due to disruption throughout the entire west coast ferry network.
Ferry operator Caledonian MacBrayne, known as CalMac, has a contract to operate ferries between the islands along the west coast and the mainland, which is due to expire in September 2024.
CalMac has faced criticism in recent years due to the quality and reliability of its services, which the company has attributed to its ageing fleet, delays in the building of new ferries and breakdowns.
Locals reliant on the services have voiced their anger over the continued disruption.
This week, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) called for the body to be taken into permanent public ownership after the expiry of this contract. RMT general secretary Mick Lynch will meet with MSPs in the Scottish parliament tonight [13 June 2023] to advocate for a “People’s CalMac.”