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Transport / Scott’s ferry contract question stymied in parliament

Tavish Scott in parliament on Wednesday. Image: Scottish ParliamentShetland MSP Tavish Scott.

SHETLANDERS are being “kept in the dark” about the replacement Northern Isles ferry service, according to MSP Tavish Scott, whose parliamentary question on Thursday failed to tease out the identity of a third bidder in the competition to run the service.

Following an exchange at question time in Holyrood, Scott reiterated concerns that islanders were being starved of information about tendering for the next Northern Isles ferry service contract.

He also doubted that the mystery third bidder would have time to compile a proper bid for the contract given the lack of contact between this company and the various organisations whose needs will have to be heeded in the bidding process

Scott asked islands minister Paul Wheelhouse when the government will publish the specification for the tender, whether it is an improvement on the current contract and who the third bidder is.

The minister replied that the tender document and identity of bidders would remain confidential for some weeks yet and that the final bids would be tendered in the spring.

Wheelhouse told parliament: “We are committed to a fair, open and transparent tender process that aims to get the best deal for the communities that depend on the ferry services that serve Tavish Scott’s constituents and others in the northern isles.

“It is important that the identities of the bidders remain confidential at this stage in the procurement procedure. We will be discussing the procedure with bidders in the coming weeks, following which we intend to publish the invitation to tender on the Transport Scotland website.”

Scott said later:“Shetland is being kept in the dark. Islanders and island businesses need to know what the new service will be. The minister says there will be flexibility built into the contract. But what does that mean in practice? We need to know.

“Finally it is a nonsense that the government will not say who the third company is. Ministers have told their own company, Calmac, to bid. The current operator Serco is bidding. Again, islanders deserve to know as this is our lifeline service.

“Whoever the third company is, it has not, as yet, talked to local people, businesses or the seafood and agricultural industry. It is difficult to see how a bid can be made for a service without discussing that with local people.”

It has been speculated that major Danish ferry company DFDS might be in the running, but neither DFDS nor the Scottish Government have commented on this.

General Election - 12 December 2019