A CRITICAL and anxious few days lie ahead for tourism businesses in the Scottish islands with social distancing restrictions on the beleaguered CalMac ferry service due to lift a week on Monday, all being well.

Islanders have endured significant limitations on the lifeline service, with freight unable to get through and tourists unable to visit.

However, while in one example ferry passenger capacity would rise from 250 to nearly 1,000, car deck constrictions will stay the same.

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If the week goes by without any change to Scottish Government plans to lift most Covid restrictions across the country, it will be a considerable step forward for many businesses as well as the people they serve.

However, a pressing lack of car space still threatens freight and tourism business revenue.

CalMac says islanders who need to attend urgent medical appointments will always be accommodated, and taken by taxi to the destination if car space is not available. It will also do its best to help in the case of any on-the-day journey needs.

HeraldScotland: Cars disembark at port. Picture: Colin Mearns.Cars disembark at port. Picture: Colin Mearns.

CalMac says it has "Turn Up and Go" spaces held back for people who need to travel at the last minute.

However, islanders say they are more broadly disadvantaged because it is usually visiting traffic that is booking in advance.

The Mull and Iona Ferry Committee said from August 9 “you can be sure that as a foot passenger at least, you will be able to travel on any Craignure-Oban sailing you wish”.

“The lack of space on the car deck will remain however … we have written and spoken several times with both CalMac senior management and Transport Scotland on this issue. We have made it clear that urgent action is needed to introduce some form of prioritisation for local users.

“At the moment, travellers who can plan their journeys weeks in advance are getting priority over those who cannot … that is unfair and unacceptable.”
Tourism chiefs urge people to book early and check for updates but the relaxation of social distancing “will remove a significant constraint on the system”.

The islands have been hit hard and on occasion shop shelves have been empty but as a consequence of a failing local ferry service rather than what you might think – the global pandemic.

HeraldScotland: Warm summer weather has given the impression all is rosy in the garden. Picture: Scott Wright.Warm summer weather has given the impression all is rosy in the garden. Picture: Scott Wright.

Islands businesses are among those facing further challenges as staff shortages weight down tourism’s recovery, deputy business editor Scott Wright says in his Thursday column.

“Looking in from the outside, it could be assumed everything in the tourism garden is rosy. But peel back the veneer and one finds an industry under extreme pressure,” he writes.

Business correspondent Kristy Dorsey shines a light on the cost of poverty in employment in her column from Friday, in which she says: “The dignity of work is founded on the assumption that a fair day’s labour is exchanged for a fair day’s pay, yet mounting evidence shows that for a growing number of people, that contract has been broken.” 

Taxpayers are bearing the cost of a grand banking plan, business correspondent Mark Williamson reveals in his Tuesday column this week.

“As small firms grapple with the uncertainty triggered by the pandemic bureaucrats last week claimed success for a scheme to encourage competition in the banking market that fell way short of meeting a key target – numbers switching.”