Maintaining lifeline services during a pandemic

Kevin Hobbs, CEO

Travel has been extremely limited in the last year. Trips abroad have all but ceased, and Scottish staycations have been halted. However, while passenger and vehicle numbers have been significantly lower than usual across the ferry network, our vessels are still a lifeline for island communities. The requirement for islands to import food, export produce, and transport livestock remains as necessary as ever, as well as allowing individuals to travel for essential purposes such as work or medical appointments.

Maintaining these lifeline services during a pandemic comes with its challenges.

Since March 2020, we have been operating a pandemic response unit, consisting of senior engineers, naval architects, and senior decision-makers. Their job is to assess what work across the network is critical to lifeline services and ensure essential maintenance crews are dispatched anywhere in the country at short notice to carry out repairs.

Travel bans have also meant rethinking our approach to stakeholder engagement, which is a key part of our consultation approach on large projects. Instead of meeting with us in the local town hall, we asked islanders to register for a Microsoft Teams event. While this improved the accessibility of our consultation, we will likely merge the two approaches as soon as we are able to travel again, as the value of face-to-face meetings cannot be underestimated.

The pandemic has affected all our lives in so many ways. Personally, I take one week at a time and as each passes, we are one week closer to the easing of restriction and a resumption of “the new normal”.

Like so many other businesses, several of our colleagues are also involved in homeschooling, which brings its own unique dynamic to the daily routines. We’re supporting our colleagues through this by encouraging flexibility and variable working patterns.

Given the nature of our work, it has been positive for our organisation that we have not furloughed any staff, and I am proud of the team for continuing to work productively throughout lockdown restrictions, driving forward design and planning for vessels and harbours projects. We are working hard to continuously develop at CMAL, and our updated 3 year corporate plan will be issued in April – this is an annual revision.

The pandemic may have stopped most of our travel, but it has not stopped the need for our lifeline services.