MORE than 20 Cumbrae businesses have written to Nicola Sturgeon urging her to keep the island in line with the mainland during the easing of lockdown.

Local traders are concerned that less frequent ferry services and social distancing measures will impact the island’s economy and hit residents hardest.

More than 640,000 trips were taken to the island between March and October last year, and islanders believe that huge damage will be done should a more regular ferry service not be reinstated.

The business group said: “We recognise the support that the Scottish Government has put in place during the lockdown period for businesses of all sizes and for that we are grateful.

“As with most of the Scottish islands we are dependent upon our lifeline ferry service and have previously found it highly satisfactory.

“We are however, concerned that CalMac are no longer acting in accordance with the route-map issued by the Scottish Government by restricting travel to the island.

“The damage that will be done to the island economy, and indeed the mental health and wellbeing of this community, should these restrictions not be kept in line with other transport network links, will be immense.”

The business group is looking for restrictions on the island to be kept similar to those across the water, to help Cumbrae recover from the effects of coronavirus.

They said: “We are not asking that the restrictions be eased in any way differently to through-out the rest of Scotland, but that the island is not treated differently to any other part of Scotland.

“It is imperative that the island remain in line with the mainland as all our communities navigate our way out of lockdown.

“Only by ensuring that the island stays in line with the mainland will the island economy have the chance to recover from this crisis.”

CalMac managing director Robbie Drummond said: “We have every sympathy for the situation businesses on Cumbrae find themselves in.

“Decisions on ferry travel during the phases out of lockdown is not one for CalMac, but for the Scottish Government to address.

“I can assure islanders that at all stages of the Covid response, CalMac has followed and implemented Government guidelines on essential ferry travel and physical distancing entirely and continues to do so.”

The business group is asking for support from the First Minister to ensure the island’s ‘long term sustainability’ following the coronavirus pandemic.

MSP Kenneth Gibson said: “COVID-19 is undoubtedly the biggest challenge we have faced in our lifetimes and the measures to deal with it must reflect its magnitude.

“The difficult sacrifices being made are working. However, the virus has not gone away and the margins for ensuring it does not take off again remain tight.

“The SNP Government knows that the restrictions cause harms of their own and they will not be kept in place for a moment longer than is necessary and proportionate.”

Community groups on the island say the easing of restrictions must not move any faster for Cumbrae so that the local shops and services are swarmed by visitors with no ability to social distance.

The Millport Support Group, which was set up to help the most vulnerable on the island during the coronavirus pandemic, says the relaxation of restrictions must be managed.

The group said: “While recognising the serious effects of the loss of income from tourism and lock-down restrictions on some local businesses, we are also aware of the concerns of many island residents, including business owners, who consider that relaxing ferry travel restrictions in accordance with Government guidelines must be managed carefully by CalMac.

“This is not only because of the increased risk of introducing the virus to a susceptible population, but also because of the impact on their daily lives in the ‘new normal’.

“CalMac anticipate that ferry capacity will be reduced by 80 per cent for some time, and bus capacity will be limited.

“Detailed planning is thus needed to ensure that any proposed increase in visitor numbers is managed so that islanders, particularly our more vulnerable residents, do not struggle to access ferry and bus travel, or indeed local shops given that there are already queues along the pavement due to social distancing requirements.”

Councillor Alex Gallagher, portfolio holder for recovery and renewal, has set up a meeting between councillors, council officials and all other parties to discuss the best solutions for the island.

He said: “I hope that this can happen quickly and that we can get the agreed requirements of the islanders communicated to CalMac, the Scottish Government and other agencies to provide solutions and actions that meet the needs of everyone on Cumbrae.

"I believe that it is important that the wishes of all sections of the Cumbrae community are taken to consideration when following the transition out of lockdown.”