Ferry tendering process 'to be scrapped'

Written by Tom Freeman on 21 December 2017 in News

Scottish Government confirms it is seeking ways to award ferry services directly to CalMac

Calmac ferry - dun deagh

The Scottish Government intends to award ferry contracts directly to public sector contractors to avoid a costly bidding war, it has been confirmed.

In a statement to MSPs, transport minister Humza Yousaf said he was looking for ways to make a direct award to CalMac compliant with EU competition rules on state aid.

Awarding public contracts to in-house companies is also subject to strict regulations.

The Clyde and Hebrides ferry services tender was won by CalMac ferries last year, at a cost of about about £1.1m to the taxpayer.

Yousaf said: “It would be my intention to scrap future tendering processes and appoint the contract to Calmac directly.”

He announced the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services network will continue to be operated by publicly-owned CalMac under the terms of the recently tendered contract until 2024.

A decision on the northern routes to Orkney and Shetland will be made in Spring, he added, but the current contract operated by Serco NorthLink will be extended until October 2019.

However the currently paused tender for the Gourock-Dunoon ferry service will be re-started as soon as possible, he said, as a private contractor could potentially allow for a vehicle service to be reintroduced on the town centre route.

"Our priority is to ensure the provision of the best ferry services possible to our island and remote rural communities, while ensuring value for money to the taxpayer," said Yousaf.

Scottish Conservative Jamie Green said the decision was "ideological", arguing competitive tendering means "incumbent operators are kept on their toes".

"What we have learned today is that despite more than 18 months of intensive wrangling, the Government is no further forward in its pursuit of a policy to ditch open and transparent procurement of ferry services in favour of a strategy of directly awarding contracts to a Government-owned entity, which will effectively sew up future contracts, if contracts are given indefinitely to CalMac," he said.

Scottish Labour's Neil Bibby called for the tendering process to be scrapped altogether, and said the northern routes could be expanded before winning concessions from the EU.

CalMac employees have been represented by the Unite trade union. The CalMac union rep Davie Graham welcomed the decision.

"The unions involved in CalMac have all fought long and hard over many years to end this waste of taxpayers’ money," he said. "We are especially pleased to see the Minister’s stated preference to make awards to an in-house provider and to directly appoint CalMac to run the Clyde and Hebridean Ferry Services.”

However there was a more lukewarm response from the RMT. General secretary Mick Cash said it was "inconsistent to pursue direct award on the Clyde and Hebrides but not on the Northern Isles routes”.

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