Scottish Ministers have announced that tendering for the new Clyde and Hebrides Ferries Services (CHFS) contract will begin in autumn 2014.
The new service will be procured as a single contract - and to ensure what the government says is “a robust and thorough procurement exercise...that will enhance ferry services across the Clyde and Hebrides routes and consideration of adding new routes currently being delivered by local authorities”, a new three year interim contract will be put in place with the existing operator, CalMac Ferries Ltd.
Transport minister Keith Brown said: “Since my appointment as transport minister I have made clear my commitment to supporting our island and remote communities by ensuring we deliver safe and reliable services for ferry users.
“We are providing record investment to deliver new cutting edge vessels, new ports and harbour infrastructure fit for the 21st century, and we want to see that continue.
“To this end, I can confirm that we intend to take forward the procurement of the new contract for the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services as a single contract. We have looked closely at the options available to us to drive up ferry service standards and no compelling case that tendering individual routes - or ‘unbundling’ the current contract – has been put to me.
“This decision will allay fears stoked by some that we are seeking to break up routes for individual operators to run.
“To facilitate a thorough and robust procurement for the new contract, CalMac are to be awarded a new three year interim contract to deliver services when the current contract expires next autumn.
“CalMac’s status will not change – the company will remain under our ownership, delivering services on behalf of Scottish Ministers under the same terms and conditions. The services they deliver will not change. The new three year contract award will also provide certainty for CalMac staff and the local communities CalMac serves.
“The interim three-year contract with CalMac will allow the necessary detailed preparation work required to finalise the scope of the new contract to be completed. This work includes consideration of the expansion of the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Service to include some services currently being delivered by local authorities as outlined in our Draft Ferries Plan.
“This will also allow scope for further discussion with the Commission around the potential for raising the six year maximum contract length currently specified by the European Commission.
“In this regard local community needs must be assessed and negotiations with councils taken forward. This interim arrangement with CalMac will also allow the next six year contract to fully incorporate the outcome of the Final Ferries Plan due to be published by the end of the year. This arrangement will allow this work to be successfully concluded, the scope of the tender specification finalised and then a full competitive procurement exercise undertaken.
“Since 2007 the Scottish Government has provided ferry services with over £550 million of support and most recently awarded a new £242 million contract for Northern Isles ferry services - a contract already delivering enhanced passenger services to and from Orkney and Shetland.
“We want to further improve on this how we have procure and deliver future ferry contracts. Our Final Ferries Plan - the Scottish Government’s vision for ferry services to be published by the end of the year, will provide a blueprint for ferry services right across Scotland over the next decade with the new Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Service contract at its heart.”