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Ferry contract announcement delayed

THE SCOTTISH government has denied double standards over delays announcing who has won the new northern isles ferry service contract until after the local government elections on 3 May.

Orkney MSP Liam McArthur said the Scottish infrastructure secretary Alex Neil told him recently that no announcement could be made on the successful bidder during the so-called election “purdah” period. 

The government had said in Parliament they hoped to announce who had won the six year contract this month.

Four of the six original bidders remain in the running for the contract: NorthLink Ferries, P&O Ferries Holdings, Serco and Shetland Line (1984).

Mr McArthur pointed out that local government minister Derek Mackay had breached the purdah rules by announcing extra cash for councils last week.

Calling for Mr Mackay to be suspended until after the elections, the Orkney LibDem MSP said: “Why announce one and not the other? This inconsistency makes it clear that the SNP are out to use their public office for party political gain.
“Given the lifeline nature of these ferry services, and the very tight timeframe for putting in place the new contract, the delay by Ministers in making an announcement has raised understandable concerns in Orkney and Shetland. 
“The fact that election ‘purdah’ is being used as an excuse to prevent this announcement, but not one that has a far more direct and unambiguous bearing on the Council elections, will only serve to heighten suspicions about the SNP’s motives and raise concerns in the islands about what the new ferry contract might contain.”

However the government insisted Mr McArthur was fully up to date with developments regarding the ferry contract and his claims about double standards were “hypocritical and wrong”.

A government spokesperson said: “Ministers have been in regular contact with Mr McArthur in recent weeks to keep him updated on the timing of this crucial announcement.

“He is well aware of the information being prepared so that ministers can take a decision based on evidence and not political pressure.

“It is essential that the decision on the future of northern isles ferry services is one taken in the long term interests of those services and the communities of the northern isles and that is what Scottish ministers are working towards.”

Meanwhile a spokesperson for Mr Mackay said: “These claims are totally hypocritical and wrong – as has already been made clear, this announcement was fully in line with Scottish government local government election guidance.

“The announcement of these additional resources to protect over 500,000 vulnerable people across Scotland in 2013-14 was agreed with CoSLA and involved all parties, including Lib Dems – whose Westminster colleagues are responsible for the cut.”