Island ferries: Move more jobs to the Hebrides, councillor tells CalMac

MV ‘Lord of the Isles’

Cal Mac’s Managing Director, Robbie Drummond, has defended claims made by the company’s CEO that “the vast majority” of Cal Mac’s staff live in the areas served by the ferry network.

The comments came under fire during a meeting of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.  

The comments by David Makison came in an article in Holyrood magazine published in June on how ferry traffic had changed during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Makison’s statements concluded that Cal Mac’s staff “share the same fears and concerns” over the pandemic, “as anyone else” who lives in the islands. 

But at a meeting of the full council of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, held at the end of June, the Chair of the local authority’s Transportation and Infrastructure committee, Uisdean Robertson, cast doubt on Mr Makison’s claims over the levels of employment with Cal Mac in the islands.

He said: “We constantly find ourselves being told how important it is to support island  communities, with the latest example of such promotion being the article in the Holyrood magazine….

“This magazine”, Cllr Robertson continued, “is pitched at influencers and decision-makers  and if [Mr Makison’s] statements were to be believed this would suggest that most people employed to deliver the lifeline ferry services to the Western isles live between the Butt and Barra. This is something that we should challenge.

“We must not stand aside and watch public bodies and companies centralise jobs from the islands that contribute to a pattern of depopulation, and we must strongly argue the case for the government  to intervene.” 

Cllr Robertson also claimed at the full council meeting that a group of councillors from the Uists had recently used a Freedom of Information enquiry to obtain figures “on how many jobs” Cal Mac and ferry and port infrastructure company, CMAL, “create in the Western Isles.

Cllr Roberston claimed, CMAL had “refused to provide a response”.

“Worse still”, Cllr Robertson added in the meeting, “I noted a recent press story that CMAL were expanding their office in Port Glasgow to accommodate new staff. I am sure the Comahirle could identify a number of suitable offices  in the Western Isles  if more space is needed for new staff.”

Responding to the claims, Cal Mac’s Managing Director, Robbie Drummond said in a statement:    

“Cal Mac has more than 1400 staff, with 224 of these coming from the Outer Hebrides. 

“We have around 86 per-cent of our staff based around our network, including senior office staff and those in ports and on vessels, many of them local community members. 

“In some of the smaller islands in the Western Isles, like Eriskay, we account for as much as one out of every nine jobs on the island.

“Given our experiences with remote working during the Covid-19 emergency”, Mr Drummond concluded, “it has demonstrated that back office roles can be based anywhere and that is something we will be looking at in the future as these roles come up.”

Article by Peter Urpeth, Local Democracy Reporter