SCOTTISH Government-owned CalMac has come under fire as it emerged lifeline CalMac services cannot be booked beyond the next five weeks due to delays in publishing its timetable.

The timetable is due to come into force next month, but the delay means nobody can book ferries beyond October 23.

Normally winter timetables are approved by the Scottish Government agency Transport Scotland in April.

CalMac has come under fire by users for the failure, which it is feared will further put people off from travelling, after years of disruption to services due to breakdowns as a result of an ageing ferry fleet.

User groups such as the Mull and Iona Ferry Committee have raised concerns about a "failure of consultation" as draft proposals were produced just two weeks ago - five months later than usual and a Teams meeting over what they believe are cuts to services was held as late as Friday.

Committee chairman Joe Reade who has raised an objection in the wake of the meeting said that "any meaningful consultation is nigh on impossible."

In the year before the pandemic the timetable was produced to users in April, while last winter's timetable arrived in early June.

Calmac, in response to criticism over the delays, has said it has been the result of arrangements over the closure of Uig harbour on Skye to allow for upgrades this winter - which sparked a row over island services disruption.

Earlier this month it was announced that instead of 24-week closure this autumn, work to upgrade the pier will be cut to 14 weeks and split over two periods, from January 16 to March 13, next year and October 30 to December 11.

Last week it emerged that South Uist, which has been hit by a series of disruptions because of ferry failures is to lose services for 15 days from this Saturday due to a critical safety concern with a port.

Islanders dismay as CalMac timetable delay means ferry services cannot be booked beyond next five weeksNone

Lochboisdale, the port which links South Uist to the mainland is to be out of action to ferries between until October 8 to allow for the ferry network infrastructure owners Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited to authorise repairs to the linkspan used by the ferry.

Animal behaviour scientist Dr Rupert Marshall, who runs a guest house on South Uist is among those who has lodged a complaint with CalMac's managing director Robbie Drummond about the failure to deliver the timetable, which sets times till the end of March, next year.

He said: "Please get a grip. You've already cost us the last month of summer income because of the fiasco managing the Uig and Lochboisdale pier closures."

CalMac has said that they expected the timetable, which runs from October 24 to March 30 would be available soon.

And Mr Drummond has said he hoped to have information this week and added: :"It is an immensely complex task....We are sorry for the disruption but please recognised we are not responsible for port closures."

He said that approval of timetables was deferred pending arrangements over the Uig harbour closure.

One ferry user group official said that the delays were indicative of the failures in managing Scotland's ferry service.

"With all the problems we have had with our ferries, this further shambles shows that we really do need more islanders making the decisions. Because they appreciate the damage of not having a reliable ferry service, or at the moment, being unable to book actually book ferry services.

Islanders dismay as CalMac timetable delay means ferry services cannot be booked beyond next five weeks

"Things are have been in limbo for so long and it is long past time that this timetable is in place because the uncertainty is damaging. Every day that goes by where people cannot buy tickets, is a day of damage to business, a day of uncertainty and an inability for anyone to plan."

A message to stakeholders from Demi Wylie, the transport planning manager of CalMac also apologised.

"We would like to sincerely apologise for the delay and inconvenience being caused by the ongoing delays to the winter timetable. We appreciate these are being published much later than normal - this is because of the extended discussions around the Uig closure only being concluded recently, meaning there are still several routes to be entered into our ticketing system.

"Please be assured we are working around the clock to get these routes into the system as quickly as possible. We will issue further communications this week to let customers know when the timetable will be available for viewing and reservations online."

It comes after Harris islanders complained to CalMac managing director Robbie Drummond that they could not even book ferries beyond the end of September on the current summer timetable - as its usual ferry was diverted to cover for Lochboisdale's closure.

Kenny Macleod of the community business group Harris Development Ltd said issues with the bookings came "without a word to anyone as to why".

"Many people who were planning to travel here will now no longer come," he said.

"I have been making arrangements for a business visit to Skye and agreed appointments based on the current timetable. I now don’t know when I can travel and whether I can do the work and return the same day as was possible previously without incurring costs for overnight stays," he said.

Mr Drummond indicated in July that it had been looking to cut its ferry sailings in 2023 because of its ageing ferry fleet.

The operator of west coast lifeline services said it might have to reduce its winter timetable and, or, delay increased summer sailings next year because of the massive scale of the work needed.

Seventeen of CalMac's 35 working ferries deployed across Scotland are now over 25 years old.

The oldest in the CalMac fleet is is the Isle of Cumbrae which is 46-years old.

The cost of repairs to ferries has more than tripled in a decade as age takes its toll on Scotland’s ferry fleet.

Scottish Government-owned ferry operator CalMac spent more than £28.5m on repairs to their vessels in 2021, compared with just £9.5m in 2011.

Official figures show that repair costs have soared since the SNP came to power, with total spending running to nearly £220m since 2007.

And since 2007, the average of Scotland's lifeline vessels has soared from 17 years to 24 years. Back in 1974 the typical ferry was just 13 years old.

Meanwhile two much-delayed vessels due to replace remain languishing at the Inverclyde shipyard of nationalised Ferguson Marine.

Glen Sannox and its sister ferry Hull 802, which are needed to help begin to replace begin to replace the ageing fleet is running at least five years late with costs escalating to at least two-and-a-half times the original budget.

Issues with building the ferries mean that Glen Sannox will not see service till between March and May 2023 at the earliest, while Hull 802 is not due to set sail till between October and December 2023.