The procurement of the next contract to operate the Northern Isles Ferry Services is underway, with the publication of the contract notice.
The contract, worth an estimated £370million, will run for eight years and all routes will be tendered as a single bundle.
The Invitation To Tender documents will issue early in the new year, with a view to awarding the contract in Summer 2019.
Paul Wheelhouse, Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands, in the Scottish Government said:
“The Northern Isles Ferry Services play a vital role for the communities of Shetland and Orkney and I want to make sure that we provide the best possible transport links for the communities that depend on them.
“The publication of the contract notice starts the procurement of the next Northern Isles Ferry Services contract in earnest, inviting interest from potential operators.
“We have always said we would take the views of the local community into account and, through the consultation process, it was clear that their preference is for this contract to be put out to tender.
“Scottish Ministers will retain control of all important issues, like routes, timetables and fares, under the terms of the public service contract. All the routes will be tendered as a single bundle and all existing vessels will be made available to the successful bidder.”
After the announcement, local MSP John Finnie, Scottish Greens called on the Scottish Government to put the needs of communities at the forefront of its thinking.
John Finnie said:
“I believe that the lifeline Northern Isles Ferry Services should be run exclusively in the interest of my constituents in Orkney and Shetland, rather than for private profit. The Scottish Green Party has consistently called for these services to be run as a public service. The Scottish Government could still deliver this by ensuring that Calmac come in with a strong bid in the tendering process.
“The significant public subsidy that goes to these routes should be used to the benefit of island communities and that simply doesn’t happen when you put a disreputable company such as Serco in charge.
“One thing the Scottish Government can and must commit to is protecting the terms and conditions of the workforce. I am therefore calling on Ministers to ensure that RMT and Nautilus are involved at every step in the tendering process to ensure this is prioritised.”