The preferred bidder to deliver ferry services to the Northern Isles was confirmed today as a substantial package of fare reductions to be introduced by Scottish Ministers for Orkney and Shetland islanders was also unveiled.
Serco NorthLink Ferries have been selected as the preferred bidder to operate the next contract for the Northern Isles Ferry Services (NIFS) network, providing continuity and the provision of high-quality, affordable ferry services that will be welcomed by local communities.
Just some of the benefits of the new contract, details of which will be published following contract award, include the upgrade of ten cabins to premium class, upgraded terminal facilities at Hatston, and improved customer communications and services.
On fares, the Scottish Government is taking action to ensure that from January islanders will be able to enjoy a 20% year round discount on cabin fares on Aberdeen-Kirkwall-Lerwick routes, and benefit from a three year fares freeze for passengers, non-commercial vehicles and cabins on those routes.
Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands, Paul Wheelhouse, said:
“The Scottish Government remains fully committed to high quality ferry links to the Northern Isles so I am delighted to announce Serco NorthLink as the preferred bidder to operate these services for a further eight years.
“In addition to the new contract, the Scottish Government is also helping island residents with a package of fare reductions. Building on the 30% discount for passenger and vehicle fares already enjoyed by islanders, cabin fares on routes from Orkney and Shetland to and from Aberdeen will be reduced by 20% from January, and we will also introduce a three-year islander fares freeze for passengers, non-commercial vehicles and cabins on those routes.
“We have placed our island communities at the heart of the new contract and as preferred bidder Serco are making some exciting new customer focused enhancements. These include an extra ten premium cabins on the Aberdeen-Kirkwall-Lerwick routes, a full refurbishment of the terminal lounge at Hatston, earlier boarding at Aberdeen harbour and extended opening hours of NorthLink’s customer services centre.
“We are acutely aware of the particular seasonal and time-sensitive challenges faced by key industries on Orkney and Shetland. The new contract includes the flexibility to allow timetabled freight and ferry services to be amended to better reflect changes in demand across the year and from sector to sector. We want to support the key areas of tourism, fishing, food and drink, aquaculture and farming and help Orkney and Shetland’s economies to thrive. These new arrangements will help support that.
“The new contract also reflects the Scottish Government’s commitment to the Fair Work Framework, providing pension protections and security of employment for the staff involved in the delivery of the ferry services.
“It is important to remember that Scottish Ministers will retain control of all of the key issues, such as fares and timetables through the public service contract, and I look forward to continuing to build on our strong working relationship with Serco NorthLink Ferries in the months and years ahead.”