Iain MacRury is the managing director of South Uist-based Salar Smokehouse LTD, and runs Charlie’s Bistro on Benbecula alongside his wife, Emma.

With a unique dual perspective on two very different businesses, he has told The Herald that there’s no escaping from the far-reaching repercussions of an unreliable ferry service.

The Herald: Pictured: Iain and Emma MacruryPictured: Iain and Emma Macrury (Image: newsquest)

He said: “With the accommodation side of our bothy and bistro, we’ve noticed that we’re getting far fewer bookings from businesses, simply because they can’t rely on getting their workers over.

“We try year-round to accommodate what I call ‘migrating workers; from Lewis or Harris and the highlands who are coming across to service the islands, whether that’s for engineering projects or maintenance.

“If they actually do manage to get a ferry over, and work on the island Monday to Friday, the next question is whether they will be able to get home to their families at the weekend.

“We’re then noticing less footfall from tourists with our takings down around 40% from this time last year.

“For the bookings we do have, the problem we face is whether we have the ingredients available to us on the island to serve our full menu.”

The Herald: Charlie's Bistro via FacebookCharlie's Bistro via Facebook (Image: newsquest)

A broken delivery chain is reportedly causing further issues still for the multi-award-winning Salar Smokehouse, as the small team are forced to race against the clock to ensure their products make it to customers.


Sign up for the Scotland's Ferries newsletter and get extra analysis and information every week from Scotland's leading journalist on the issue.

Click here to sign up 👈_______________________________________________________

Iain,53, said: “We can’t rely on the ferries anymore to transport our products to the mainland, so now use a royal mail service that costs us twice as much.

“When we’re waiting for our own deliveries, the main worry is that we could have a tonne of salmon sitting on the pier in Uig waiting to come over, only for the sailing to be cancelled.

“That immediately loses us 24 hours on the shelf life of that product and means that when we do eventually get it, we’ll have to pay our staff double the amount of time to get it done before the fish goes off.

“Knowing that a product with an expiry date could be sitting for up to two days on a lorry somewhere makes it very hard to plan our business.

“There’s a worry that we’re going to lose thousands of pounds worth of product through no fault of our own or our suppliers.

“At the very least, compensation for that needs to be considered.”

The Herald:

Learning to anticipate every worst-case scenario, and reserve funds accordingly, now means that plans for a new smokehouse on Benbecula and the recruitment of six additional staff members have been put on hold.

"The cash flow we were expecting to go towards our next project just isn't there," Iain admits.

Asked how it feels to delay what would have been a welcome expansion and boost to the island's economy, he continued: “I don’t think there’s any sympathy for the islanders or any understanding of which islands are in need of boats the most.

“It seems like they don’t see Uist as important.

Many people are now viewing this situation as the modern-day clearances and questioning if this is going to force people to move to the mainland.

“The youngsters with families are already leaving because they can’t rely on the ferries to sustain their daily life, never mind their businesses.

“I don’t think people understand the implications that a lack of ferries has throughout the islands.

“Even if you just want to get away for the weekend, or need to get off the island for an emergency, we should have the right to use the services that we pay taxes for.”

READ MORE: ''Enough is enough': The £620k taxpayer cost of 'ignored' ferry fiasco study

An island visit from Robbie Drummond, the chief executive of CalMac, was well publicised last week, as attempts were made to "discuss concerns" with local residents in the wake of the recent demonstration in Lochboisdale.

When Mr Drummond returned to the mainland, however, many remained unconvinced that the urgency of the situation had fully been grasped.

Iain said: “In my personal view, there should be representatives from these islands who are involved in decisions from timetable planning to everyday operations at CalMac.

“There’s this fictitious idea that these places are the land of milk and honey when in reality, they’re not.

“People need to have a better understanding of what it’s like to run a business and live a life which depends on these services.”

The Herald:

Unsure of what the future holds, there is unmistakable anger in Iain’s voice as he speaks of how business owners across the Western Isles have been forced into survival mode once more as a result of the ongoing crisis.

He said: “This year, we should be comfortable in knowing that we made it through the pandemic by working hard as a community.

“It took a lot of determination and the hope that better times were to come.

“Many businesses didn’t make it, and any that did managed by the skin of their teeth.

“Will they now be able to survive a ferry situation that’s been caused by our own government and CalMac?”