Keep ferry network public, says Labour MSP

The next Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Service contract, including both Bute routes, is due to begin in October 2016.
The next Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Service contract, including both Bute routes, is due to begin in October 2016.

Ferry services in the Clyde and Hebrides should be kept in public ownership when the next west coast ferry contract is awarded, according to a Labour MSP for the Highlands and Islands.

David Stewart, who is also the shadow transport and islands minister, was reacting to news this week that only two ‘pre-qualification questionnaires’ had been submitted to the Scottish Government by companies interested in running the CalMac network of services from October 2016.

The two companies who expressed a firm interest in the contract, by completing the questionnaires prior to the March 31 deadline, are understood to be CalMac Ferries Ltd, the publicly-owned current contract holder, and private firm Serco, which holds the Northlink contract for lifeline services to Orkney and Shetland.

A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “Transport Scotland received two completed Pre-Qualification Questionnaires before the required time for submission and will now be assessing these in accordance with the terms of the Contract Notice published in the OJEU [Official Journal of the European Union - Ed] and the associated documents which were available to operators.

“We are content with the level of interest shown in operating these important transport services. The next step is the evaluation of the responses to the Pre-Qualification Questionnaires and beyond that the issue of the Invitation to Tender.”

Mr Stewart said: “I strongly believe our lifeline ferry services should be in public ownership, which is in the interests of passengers, workers and the taxpayer. The privatisation of the Northern Isles ferry services in May 2012, when Serco were awarded the contract, led to the first industrial action on Northern Isles ferries for over 30 years.”