An independent panel is to be set up to oversee the procurement of the new Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Service contract.
The panel will be charged with ensuring the procurement process is “fair, open and transparent”, according to transport minister Derek Mackay MSP.
The panel - whose membership has yet to be announced - will be invited to review and offer comment to Transport Scotland, the government’s transport agency, on:
* the Initial Invitation to Tender, due to issue on 10 July 2015.
* the Interim Invitation to Tender, due to issue in autumn 2015.
* the Final Invitation to Tender, due to issue in December 2015. T
ransport Scotland will take the views of the panel into account and provide an undertaking to consider all relevant points made by the panel.
Any necessary changes arising from the panel’s assessment would be incorporated in the subsequent or final version of the Invitation to Tender.
The panel will be made up ofbetween six and ten people representing local communities, various sectors or interest groups - including the trade unions.
Mr Mackay said: “This is an entirely new initiative in the procurement of ferry services in Scotland – the establishment of an independent Procurement Reference Panel to further reinforce our commitment to fairness, openness and transparency in the procurement process.
“We have already engaged with key stakeholders who have a direct interest in the Clyde and Hebrides ferry services, but this panel will give them additional assurances around the procurement process. It will also allow further important input from local communities and interest groups.
“As Minister for Transport and Islands, I am well aware of the crucial role these lifeline links play for families and businesses on the West Coast and the Western Isles and there is no doubt the award of the next CHFS contract is an incredibly important moment for Scotland’s island communities.
“I am convinced this new approach will be welcomed by all of those who live, work and visit communities served by these services.”
Mr Mackay also repeated the Scottish Government’s view on the tendering process, which lies at the heart of the RMT union’s industrial action across the Caledonian MacBrayne network this week.
“The Scottish Government would rather we did not have to tender these services,” he said.
“My party opposed the initial tender of these services in 2004. However, it has been demonstrated that EU law requires the Scottish Government to do so.
“We inherited this situation from the previous Labour-Lib Dem administration and it was that coalition that initiated the first tendering of the Clyde and Hebrides ferry services contract.
“Some opposition members who supported the tender then appear to be suggesting that we break EU law, the consequences of which would surely result in challenge.
“If we were not to tender this contract we put the services themselves, the subsidy we provide them with, the routes, the vessels and the investment at risk. That is not a risk this Government will take.
“I also want to re-emphasise that the current tender process does not involve the Scottish Government selling any assets or controlling interests to the private sector.
“No matter the outcome, Scottish Ministers will retain ownership and control of all the vessels and ports currently under public ownership.
“We will set routes, timetables and fares – as we do just now – and we will retain full control of the services provided by the operator through the public service contract.”