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Ferry improvements bring economic boost for islands

Businesses in the Western Isles are reporting an economic boost driven by increased ferry capacity and dedicated services.

For the first time this summer, operator CalMac has introduced a daily direct service from Oban to Barra.

Previously the Oban to Barra route had shared the service with Lochboisdale in South Uist but this summer the MV Isle of Lewis become the single vessel serving the route daily. As part of the timetable improvements Lochboisdale was also given its own service to Mallaig with the MV Lord of the Isles improving connectivity for South Uist seven days a week as well.

Initial figures show significant increases in volumes of passengers and traffic. Overall combined passenger numbers to both destinations have increased by 18% and the number of vehicles by nearly 50%.

The Co-op in Barra used to get four deliveries a week during the summer months, but the uplift in visitors has seen this increase to five.

Michael Boylan, Co-op Area Manager, said:

"We have been delighted to serve more customers and members this summer. The daily service has allowed us to invest in more deliveries to the island bringing in our quality fresh products more often."

Haulier and fish and shellfish processors, Barratlantic, are major exporters to Europe - predominantly to France and Spain - and the dedicated service has been welcome boost for the firm.

Managing director, Donald Maclean said:

'The daily service to Oban with an 8am start for us has been fantastic for getting consistent, reliable deliveries for our customers. The majority of our catch goes to the continent and to customers in London. We are now able to get to the central belt in time to get to market for the next morning, something that we could not guarantee before. Giving customer the reassurance that we can deliver quality produce, consistently has really helped to develop business opportunities for us.'

Consultation on next summer's timetable is currently underway.

CalMac's director of operations, Drew Collier said:

'We are developing better ways of consulting with the communities we serve to provide services that best suit their needs within the resources that we have. I'm delighted that the positive changes we've made to services to Barra and Lochboisdale are paying dividends for local businesses.

'As we move forward into our new contract to deliver ferry services across the Clyde and Hebrides for the next eight years, a key part of it will be increasing this engagement with communities further with the appointment of a new stakeholder and communities director and a Communities Board.

'This will all help us work together towards providing services that more closely meet the needs and aspirations of everyone who relies on us.'

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