More input into next ferry contract

The next Northern Isles contract will begin in October.

NorthLink passenger and freight sailings have been cancelled for Thursday, with Friday's sailings also under review.

LOCAL transport chiefs have welcomed news that a working group which includes Shetland Islands Council (SIC) and isles partnership ZetTrans will have input into the specification of the next Northern Isles ferry contract.

Lead officer Michael Craigie told Thursday’s meeting of ZetTrans that it was “good news” – although he admitted the “opening of the door” was somewhat unexpected.

It came after SIC transport committee chairman Ryan Thomson – who also presides over ZetTrans – wrote to Scottish islands minister Paul Wheelhouse to outline concerns that Shetland’s voice wasn’t being heard in the process.

The SIC and ZetTrans had been involved in workshops with government body Transport Scotland and stakeholders, but officers were keen ensure that local concerns were actually going into shaping the contract specification by getting sight of documents before they were finalised.

The next Northern Isles ferry contract, which is currently held by Serco NorthLink, will be put out to tender by the Scottish Government in January ahead of a deadline of March/April.

The contract will be awarded by the end of July and it will come into place at 2.01pm on 31 October while the vessels are in port.

Unlike the previous contract, the already established working group of Shetland Islands Council, ZetTrans, Orkney Islands Council, HITRANS, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Transport Scotland will now have input into how the contract will look.

Bids which reach the final stage will be weighted 65 per cent pricing against 35 per cent quality.

But councillor Davie Sandison questioned who decides what constitutes “quality”, with members agreeing that the concept of quality might differ between Shetland and decision makers in Edinburgh.

Discussions, meanwhile, continue on how talks with Transport Scotland and the working group will function.