A SCHOOL boat that ferries children back to their island homes has been re-instated, with its future “under review”.

Highland Council has said the weekly service to the Small Isles will resume as a precautionary measure “to support the health and wellbeing” of the children, due to a “steep rise” in Covid cases in the area.

The move follows an outcry when the weekly service was cut to a fortnightly one, even though it costs more to house the children in a hostel on alternate weekends.

Eigg, where most of the children live, is only a 45-minute boat trip away from Mallaig where the high school is located but despite years of protests Highland Council only ran a school boat back to the islands every fortnight – meaning the children were forced to stay in a hostel every second weekend.

When the pandemic began, the council decided to send the pupils home every Friday and parents thought this would continue, especially as Mallaig head teacher Jeremy Newnham initially told them the weekly boat appeared to meet the needs of parents and students.

READ MORE: Fury as Highland council refuses to let island children go home every weekend

To their dismay they were told the service was being cut back this term to fortnightly and that if they took the children out of school in order to catch the public ferry at the weekends the absences would be marked as “unauthorised”, making them at risk of prosecution.

A Freedom of Information request from the islanders established the cost of a weekly ferry would amount to £4200 per month as opposed to £5336.92 per month to house them in the hostel for the two weekends they currently have to stay there.

The National: Scottish Finance and Economy Secretary Kate Forbes

The children wrote to Highland Council begging for a change of heart while the angry parents asked local MSP Kate Forbes (above) and Islands Minister Mairi Gougeon to intervene. The parents argued the decision was harming their children’s mental health and undermined council and Scottish Government pledges to try to stem island depopulation. The Scottish Government recently announced it is offering £50k to people to encourage them to stay on the islands.

The islanders have now been informed by the council that the weekly boat will resume on October 1, as “there has been a steep rise in Covid 19 in Highland and especially in Fort William and wider Lochaber area”.

“It has been decided as a precautionary measure, and in order to support the health and wellbeing of our young people, to resume the weekly boat service, which was in place last session, due to the Covid restrictions in place at that time,” said Don Esson, the council’s interim area education and learning manager.

“The longer-term frequency of the boat service is currently under review and we hope to have final decision in the near future, once the current high Covid rates have subsided.”