SCOTTISH transport minister Keith Brown has promised there will be no disruption to the NorthLink ferry service this summer while legal wrangling over the new contract is resolved.
Mr Brown said preferred bidder Serco were still intent on taking over the service on 5 July, however NorthLink is preparing to continue running the service beyond this date.
He also insisted that Serco, a multinational specialising in government contracts ranging from defence and prisons to air, sea and land transport, were committed to providing a full freight service for the islands.
Last week rival bidder Streamline put a spoke in the wheel of the government’s plans to award the contract on Tuesday 15 May by lodging a legal challenge.
The move followed outcry in Orkney and Shetland over suggestions Serco were planning on cutting down the freight service to a single cargo boat for up to half of the year.
After meeting island MSPs Tavish Scott and Liam McArthur on Wednesday, Mr Brown said: “The needs of vital time sensitive freight exports like fish and seasonal livestock and vital imports like supermarket goods will be met, and the services available for passengers will be improved.
“Serco are especially conscious of the importance of getting time sensitive freight, such as fresh fish, to market on time and we are fully satisfied that there will be no diminution of the service in this regard.”
He said the six year contract worth £243 million was awarded after a full public consultation, which received almost 400 responses, followed by an “open and transparent tender exercise” in full compliance with European rules.
He said the government would “robustly defend” the action being taken by Streamline and hoped to be able to award the contract to Serco soon.
“While the legal challenge which has come from Streamline is a disappointment we are confident of our position and intend a strong defence of the Scottish government’s case,” he said.
“While we hope that Serco will be able to take over from 5 July, if this is not possible, our contingency is for NorthLink to continue to operate the services beyond that date until Serco are in a position to take over.
“Crucially, we are absolutely committed that the users of the northern isles ferries will experience no interruption to their services.”
Keith Brown’s full statement can be read here.
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