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News / New ferry contract is ‘cauld kale reheated’

MSP TAVISH Scott is demanding clarity on the terms of the Northern Isles ferry contract and has criticised the lengthy consultation process as a “waste of time”.

According to Scott, who fired a broadside at the Scottish Government for “repeating” the same mistakes of the last tendering process, the latest deal is a near copy of the existing contract that expires in October.

Government agency Transport Scotland rejected the Shetland MSP’s claims and said the new contract would provide value for money.

Scott will table a Scottish Parliamentary question on 31 January he hopes will bring some clarity to the process. He is also demanding to know the identity of a mystery third bidder which is in the frame along with Serco NorthLink and Calmac.

Scott said: “They (the Scottish Government) seem to be making all the same mistakes as the last time when they got an absolute tanking from Audit Scotland and if they do the same again it will be unforgivable.”

The Liberal Democrat said that he had already discussed the contract, which went out to the three chosen bidders on 17 January, with local organisations and the Shetland Islands Council, which had expressed concern islanders were being offered “more of the same”.

Tavish Scott MSP

Scott added: “At the Scottish Government’s request, many different organisations, businesses and individuals in Shetland made sensible suggestions on improvements to the service.

“ZETRANS ran workshops for the government that illustrated what needed to change. Shetland’s seafood industry, worth £300 million and growing, expressly illustrated the increased tonnage of exports that the north boats will have to carry.

“It is therefore very difficult to understand a government tender that does not take these improvements into account. Why has the government ignored the input from so many local organisations?

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“It appears that the Scottish Government have issued a status quo tender. Therefore they have ignored the serious and sustained case that Shetland has made for improvements. That is not good enough. Has the government learnt nothing from previous exercises? Do they not remember the stinging criticism by Audit Scotland of the way in which they handled the last tender?”

Scott also criticised the tight timetable for the process and the lack of transparency, especially given the very lengthy period of consultation that had preceded the invitation to tender.

He said that representations from Shetland to have more direct runs on the Shetland to Aberdeen route, skipping Orkney, appear to have been ignored.

A Transport Scotland spokesman said the agency disagreed with Scott’s portrayal of the tender.

“We have undertaken extensive consultation with local communities and key stakeholders, including Shetland’s seafood industry, and Shetland Islands Council in the two years leading up to the tender being issued.

“We believe the tender will deliver the best possible ferry service that meets the needs of the communities of Shetland and provide value for money to the taxpayer.

“The next contract will allow flexibility so that, where resources allow, it will make it possible to potentially add additional tonnage, new routes and sailings to best reflect prevailing market conditions.”

The contract, worth around £370 million will run for six years with the option to extend for another two if performance of the service is satisfactory.

DFDS, which claims to be the world’s leading ferry operator, is rumoured to be the third interested party, but this has not been confirmed by the company, which declined to comment.

Transport Scotland added: “It is important that the identity of the bidders remains confidential at this stage in the procurement procedure.

“We will be discussing the procurement procedure with bidders in the coming weeks, following which we intend to publish the ITT on Transport Scotland’s website. We will also review whether it would be appropriate to identify the individual bidders at that point.”

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