It was a long time coming due to a legal challenge but finally Orkney and Shetland know that their lifeline services will continue to be run by Serco Northlink after a competitive tendering process. Serco Wins Contract & Ferry Fares to be Reduced
Reaction to the Scottish Government decision, however, has not been all welcoming by opposition politicians.
John Finnie MSP, the Scottish Greens Transport Spokesperson said:
“I’m astonished that the Scottish Government has decided to maintain its relationship with such a disreputable company by selecting them as the preferred bidder for the lifeline northern isles ferry services.
“My constituents in Orkney and Shetland deserve a ferry service that is run exclusively in the interest of island communities, but instead the Scottish Government’s proposal will see a service run exclusively in the interest of private shareholders.
“In light of previous industrial disputes on these services, and Serco’s current dispute with the RMT on the Caledonian Sleeper, the only conclusion I can draw is that Ministers are unconcerned about the workers who deliver these services.
“The Scottish Greens will continue to stand in solidarity with the workers and their trade unions in calling for these services to be run by a public sector operator, in the public interest.”
Liam McArthur LibDem Constituency MSP for Orkney said:
“I welcome confirmation that Serco has been chosen as the preferred bidder for the Northern Isles ferry contract. This will allow for continuity in the delivery of this lifeline service upon which our island communities rely.
“The reductions in fares and cabin costs on the Aberdeen routes are also a move in the right direction, though they fall short of what was promised by Ministers last year. There is also no sign of fare reductions being implemented on the Pentland Firth route, where they could make a significant difference in lowering costs, or indeed a reinstatement of sailings on that route that were cut when the contract was last tendered.
“I am concerned too that there seems to be no movement in increasing freight capacity serving the Northern Isles. While greater flexibility in how existing capacity is used may be helpful in some circumstances, the clear message from key business sectors in both Orkney and Shetland over the past year is that additional freight capacity is desperately needed.
“It will be important, of course, to consider the detail of this new contract, but already it appears there are some glaring omissions. When it comes to meeting the needs of Orkney and Shetland into the future, that is not encouraging.”
The Pentland Ferry route is also run by two other operators. One agreed to a deal but the other, Pentland Ferries, did not. Agreement, therefore, has not yet been met on reducing ferry fares on that which means subsidies to this route cannot yet be applied.
Colin Smyth MSP, Labour’s Transport spokesperson said:
“This is a missed opportunity to bring Scotland’s transport links under the control of the Scottish people.
“Serco’s ineptitude in running the Caledonian Sleeper has shown it is not the right company to manage any part of our transport system.
“Fares, especially for cabins will remain unaffordable to many families as making a profit for a private firm will continue to be the priority. “There is also still no credible solution from the Scottish Government to managing growing demand for freight, especially at peak times
“Only Scottish Labour will bring Scotland’s transport system under public ownership and reverse the damage being done by the SNP.”
Along with the awarding of the contract the Scottish Government announced a range of ferry fare deals from January 2020: 20% year round discount on cabin fares on Aberdeen-Kirkwall-Lerwick routes and a three year fares freeze for passengers, non-commercial vehicles and cabins on those routes.
Paul Wheelhouse, Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands in the Scottish Government , said:
“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.
“[It] 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.”
Rupert Soames, Serco Group Chief Executive, said:
“We are delighted to have been awarded this contract by Scottish Ministers. We are very proud of our track record over the past seven years, during which time we have improved almost every aspect of the lifeline service for the communities and businesses of the Northern Isles, while also reducing materially the annual subsidy and thereby reducing the burden on the Scottish taxpayer. We look forward to further improving the service in the coming years.”