Western Isles Council has written to the First Minister over the ferry “chaos” on the west coast, warning the disruption was tipping some businesses into closure.

The council said past decades have “provided ample evidence that the decisions around ferry services cannot be competently made from Edinburgh, Glasgow or Inverclyde” and that new ways need to be found to listen to islanders.

The letter follows a series of breakdowns to the CalMac fleet – the latest being the MV Isle of Lewis, itself the relief vessel of the Stornoway to Ullapool service.

The Lewis, which is deputising for the delayed return to service of the MV Loch Seaforth, resumed sailings on Monday after engine problems on Sunday saw it cancelling a return crossing – leaving passengers stranded on both sides of The Minch.

In the joint letter, council leader Roddie Mackay and chairman of transportation and infrastructure, councillor Uisdean Robertson, said: “We realise that the country is coming through an unprecedented public health challenge, but some bandwidth must be found to address the backlog in investment that particularly impacts on the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Service Network.

“Past decades have provided ample evidence that the decisions around ferry services cannot be competently made from Edinburgh, Glasgow or Inverclyde and that new ways need to be found to listen to islanders and allow us to inform the shape of our future ferry networks and not to impose solutions on us that have all too often proved ineffective.

“We must find a new model that allows island representatives an opportunity to provide support and insight to Government on ferry services embracing the principles of local governance with an enhanced role for islanders and island local authorities in the process.

“We are aware of direct examples of tourism businesses being impacted by booking cancellations as potential visitors increasingly lose confidence in being able to travel.

“Many businesses in the tourism and hospitality sectors were severely impacted by Covid-19 measures and it is unacceptable that these businesses cannot now return to normal trading due to the lack of performance on the ferry network. When you add the economic losses being generated by ferry impacts on to the losses accumulated through the pandemic it is highly likely that a number of our smaller businesses, in some of our most fragile communities, will simply not reopen and will cease trading.”

The letter goes on to highlight that other industries are also impacted.

It adds: “Impacts are not confined to the tourism sector, however. One of our key fishery processing businesses has lost a contract in France due to their inability to deliver product to market as a direct result of ferry reliability. The wider fisheries and aquaculture sectors report that the ferry debacle is having a significantly greater economic impact on their businesses and on their ability to trade than EU Exit.

“This situation has led to the unprecedented statement from CalMac’s own advisory board that ferry chaos on west coast services is causing significant economic damage and having a detrimental impact on individuals.

“We need to deliver rapid and effective solutions to move us beyond the present crisis situation. As a contribution to this, and to in an effort offer strategic direction for the lifeline ferry services that CalMac Ferries Ltd operate to our islands, we have suggested some specific short and medium term measures as part of a manifesto for change.

“We hope this letter and the points highlighted represent a constructive contribution that will help Ministers deliver the solutions that actually meet the needs of islanders rather than the preferences of civil servants and employees of arm’s length Government bodies whose solutions imposed on islands from the central belt have clearly failed islanders from Arran to Lewis.

“With this in mind I would suggest that a meeting with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar should be a priority for whichever minister will be responsible for our ferry services and ask that this be arranged within days of that appointment being made.”

A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “We acknowledge customers’ frustrations during periods of disruption and remain committed to supporting vital lifeline services. We fully recognise the key role ferry services play in supporting the economic, social and cultural development of island and remote mainland communities.

“Transport Scotland has regular engagement with the Comhairle on issues around ferries, which we value. We look forward to continuing to work together on future plans, along with other key partners, building on the evidence provided by the recent STAG study of Outer Hebrides ferry services commissioned by Transport Scotland. Some of the proposed actions are already being taken forward and we are willing to discuss the others. A response to the letter will be issued when ministerial appointments have been concluded.”