CALMAC have come under fire for resisting reinstating full lifeline ferry services to timetable on the Western Isles next summer at a cost of £816,000 with one group of islanders warning it will cost them up to £3m a year in lost business.

But the state-controlled ferry operator has said that Transport Scotland and Scottish ministers have been clear from there is no additional funding available.

One option CalMac is looking at involves cutting the capacity of the 21-year-old MV Hebrides, which normally carries 612 passengers and 90 cars, by 20%.

The cuts would involve removing the use of the ferry's mechanical Mezzanine deck.

It came alongside rejection of plans for a separate option, to amend the timetable to North Uist and Harris cutting frequency and moving sailings to unsocial hours.

The ferry which serves on two routes across the Little Minch to Harris and Uist was due to be replaced by one of two new ferries languishing in Ferguson Marine's Port Glasgow shipyard three years ago.

But CalMac and the Scottish Government are coming under increasing pressure to ensure the lifeline ferry services to North Uist and Harris are maintained at a level committed to in the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services contract that ministers awarded to CalMac.

The Harris Forum, which represents a number of community groups on the island, have requested an urgent meeting with the transport minister Graeme Dey to how him the "serious the cuts would cause to the community and economy.

Kenny MacLeod, chair of the the Harris Forum who is concerned that islanders will not be listened to - questioned the CalMac's estimates for the costs of retaining services - against the economic impact to islands.

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The forum estimates it could cost up to £3m a year in lost business on Harris if the cuts are in place for a full week and £1.5m if just on a Saturday. It is feared a similar amount is expected to be lost on North Uist.

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A CalMac consultation document, that was forwarded to Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and was not immediately publicly available, explained the reasoning for the proposed cuts.

The document seen by the Herald states that the Uig-Tarbert and Uig-Lochmaddy routes had seen significant growths in traffic demands in recent years but that has resulted in recurrent delays to timetable, "seriously impacting crew hours of rest" and led to cancellations to services to ensure staff are provided "compensatory rest".

It says: "These delays and cancellations have had a serious detrimental effect on the local community and the overall customer experience. This is resulting in a service on which customers are unable to rely. On this basis, the original 2019 timetable is no longer sustainable, and a change is needed to ensure a quality, reliable service is provided."

Due to Covid concerns CalMac removed the Mezzanine deck earlier in 2021 which councillors complained caused "major capacity constraints" on the routes across the Little Minch even in times when travel demand was suppressed by lockdown restrictions.

But CalMac say that deploying the Mezzanine decks on all sailings during the summer timetable while maintaining the current service frequency would come at the "significant additional cost" of around £816,000.

CalMac told stakeholders: "Requests will be given full and proper consideration, including an assessment of value for money, however Transport Scotland and Scottish ministers have been clear from the outset that there is no additional funding available within the current ferries budget."

The ferry operator said it reviewed previous mezzanine deck usage and found that in 2019, during the peak summer months, they were deployed on 55% of sailings.

CalMac said that during this time, the service was less reliable caused by increased delays and cancellations resulting in "significant impacts to the community".

Two lifeline ferries, Glen Sannox and Hull 802 - due to serve the Uig-Lochmaddy-Tarbert route - being built at Ferguson Marine were due to be in service in early 2018 but now well over four years behind schedule and their cost is now over double the original £97m contract.

The Harris Forum did its own calculations and estimated the retention of services would cost £486,000 - almost half the CalMac estimate.

And they question whether CalMac's calculations take into account significant savings made throughout 2020 and a large part of 2021 when the ferry was sailing with fewer crew because they were not providing the full range of services.

Mr MacLeod said "It is clear that they are not willing to listen to our views but keep trying to get us to accept a reduced service - either by doing away with the Mezzanine deck or by losing the second sailing from Tarbert on a Saturday, neither of which is acceptable.

"We have been saying for years that the only practical solution for this service and the huge pressure it is experiencing through growth of demand, is to put two similar sized vessels on the route for the summer period. That would get rid of the punctuality worries, give greater satisfaction, provide more jobs and equally importantly, proved a relief vessel to cover other routes during the winter maintenance period.

"Instead, and failing to have learnt from their mistakes in only providing one ferry for the Stornoway - Ullapool route, they are trying to foist on us Hull 802 at some point this century.

"All through Covid, Calmac operated a reduced capacity on the MV Hebrides, which included no Mezzanine deck. "As things opened up the Uist and Harris communities campaigned to have this opened up again but we were told that they could not as they had to meet the timetable and would be penalised by Scottish Government for not doing so.

"The ferry was operating at full capacity every Saturday throughout the of summer 2019 yet there was no complaint from Calmac of delayed services and problems with rest hours, even though the Saturday evening sailing was almost always late. What has changed since 2019? "The only difference between then and this summer are the Covid regulations that are still in force. Does [CalMac] know something that the rest of us have yet to find out and these regulations are going to still be in force next summer?

"The regulations regarding crew rest hours haven’t changed. The guidelines are a minimum of 10 hours per day and 77 in a seven day period. Why have they not increased their crewing levels to ensure these are met?

"If Calmac know that the ferries are going to be regularly sailing for longer than the printed timetable then they should be providing sufficient crew to ensure they are meeting the legal requirements."

Councillors on Comhairle nan Eilean Siar have said the Scottish Government have a "legal obligation" to act over the service cuts as it is believed to be "at odds" with the 2018 Islands Act that promises to support islands and meet their unique needs.

It has called on ministers to ensure the lifeline ferry services are maintained at a level committed to in the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services contract that ministers awarded to CalMac.

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The council says the routes operated by MV Hebrides are already the "third most capacity constrained" on CalMac’s network and the certain consequence of this proposal will mean the routes become "impossible to book" at busy periods of the year.

Mr MacLeod said the cuts will have a major impact on businesses already badly hit by the Covid pandemic lockdown.

"When we get to the [CalMac] analysis of the options they mention possible benefits and challenges," he said. "Both options do not bring so much a challenge as a reality of severely reduced income for a large number of businesses in Harris. "Having already suffered since March 2020 [CalMac] is looking to add to that and potentially cause financial hardship for many!

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"Saying the loss of the second sailing from Tarbert on a Saturday “could cause challenges……..”shows [CalMac's] complete lack of understanding of the realities. "Where are we going to find somewhere to stay for the 250 or so passengers that would normally be leaving on the evening sailing. "With accommodation providers fully booked throughout the whole summer, there is no capacity for all these people. Is he suggesting that they sleep in their cars until they can get the Sunday morning sailing they are suggesting we get?"

In April, Seven Uist community councils hit out at having "front row seats for a national scandal" over Scotland's failing lifeline ferry services.

They demanded action having just seen services disrupted after CalMac's largest ferry MV Loch Seaforth was taken off the Ullapool-Stornoway route to be taken into dry dock for "major" engine repairs that took weeks to complete.

They registered their concerns saying the "rusting hulk" of a potential ferry replacement known as Hull 802 which would serve them remains under construction at Ferguson Marine in Port Glasgow three years after it was due to enter service on the Uig-Lochmaddy-Tarbert triangle. It may not be in service until February, 2023.

They said they are the first communities to lose services when a vessel breaks down across the network as the elderly MV Lord of the Isles is removed from her normal beat covering Lochboisdale to Mallaig.

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Ferry builders Ferguson Marine, led by tycoon Jim McColl went into administration in August, 2019 following a dispute with Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) - the taxpayer-funded company which buys and leases CalMac's ships on behalf of the Scottish government - over the construction of the ferries under the fixed price contract.

The Scottish Government then pushed ahead to take full control of of the shipyard company as it went under with blame attached to soaring costs of the ferry contract.

A CalMac spokeswoman said: “The summer 2022 timetable has not been finalised. Comhairle nan Eilean Siar is currently consulting on proposals with local community representatives.”