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Scott worried as ferry tender announced

SHETLAND MSP Tavish Scott has once again raised his concerns about possible plans to cut back the lifeline ferry service to Aberdeen after the government announced it had finally submitted the new six year contract specifications, warning “the devil will be in the detail”.

Meanwhile Orkney MSP Liam McArthur has welcomed the government’s U-turn on plans to “unbundle” the contract, separating the Lerwick-Kirkwall-Aberdeen route from the service between Stromness and Scrabster.

Late on Friday afternoon Scottish transport minister Keith Brown announced the new northern isles ferry contract from 2012 to 2018 had been submitted for publication in the next edition of The Official Journal of the European Union.

Mr Scott immediately said he would be pressing the government next week on the contract’s details, especially regarding fares and frequency of service.

“Hauliers and everyone else in Shetland who depends on our lifeline ferry service will want to know exactly what the tender specification says, including on fares and frequency of service,” he said.

“Shetland has been threatened with cutbacks in the lifeline ferry service for two successive years.

“Shetland needs the service that we have right now for every aspect of island life and cutbacks would be unacceptable.”

Concerns had been voiced that the delay in starrting the tendering process for a contract due to commence next July would jeopardise the service.

Making no mention of the government’s proposal last month to separate the Pentland Firth crossing from the rest of the contract, currently held by state-owned operator NorthLink, Mr Brown said all the existing ports would be included in the new package.

He said: “The Scottish government, through Transport Scotland, is working to ensure that the contract for the northern isles ferry services is renewed on time, following community consultation, demonstrating our continued commitment to providing competitive and reliable ferry services for Scotland.

“Transport Scotland has spent the last few months in technical dialogue with the market and is looking forward to a strong competition.”

He added that all three passenger vessels currently used on the service will be made available to bidders although they will also be free to come forward with their own vessel solutions.

Mr McArthur said that he welcomed the minister’s U-turn on splitting up the service, he was worried about the government’s long term plans

“Like many I remain concerned at ministers’ determination to ‘unbundle’ the Pentland Firth and Aberdeen services. Already we are seeing the impact this decision is having on our vital tourism industry, with bookings not being taken for later next year.”