FEARS that planned changes to council transport contracts could hit small bus operators across Shetland have been played down by the local authority.
In a bid to find efficiency savings Shetland Islands Council is currently “rationalising” all its transport contracts, including scheduled bus services, school and social care transport.
Current transport contracts have been extended until the end of the 2012/13 financial year, when they will all go out to tender at the same time.
A whole raft of small transport firms who operate rural bus services across the isles fear they may lose out as a result of the new arrangements.
Shetland South councillor Allison Duncan said there was a real danger a large operator might come in and snap up these contracts, pushing small operators out of business.
He and councillor Jonathan Wills have called on the council’s audit and standards committee to look into the matter. A report is expected to go before the committee early in the New Year.
Councillor Duncan said: “Merging contracts could do a lot of damage to small businesses and to the communities they serve. Yes, we have to seek efficiency savings but the SIC has also a duty to look after small communities and keep employment in these areas.”
SIC transport planning manager Michael Craigie said the local authority was very much aware of its obligations towards local communities.
“The contracts will all be put out to tender at the same time, but not as one big contract, as feared by some. I am aware that there are rumours out there that it will all go into one big contract, but that is not the case,” he said.
Streamlining the tendering process would allow operators to combine contracts which would lead to savings for the council, he said.
“For example, if there is a public transport and a school transport route that duplicate each other, then we would like bus operators to be able to respond to that and see if they can deliver the service in a cheaper way.
“We try to find ways to reduce costs but maintain opportunities for local industry and avoid duplication. At the same time we want to maintain the quality and breadth of service of the industry that we have in Shetland.”