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Transport / Government ‘very keen’ to stick to ferry contract deadline, first minister says

NorthLink ferries Hjaltland and Hrossey. Photo Will RodgerNorthLink ferries Hjaltland and Hrossey. Photo Will Rodger

FIRST Minister Nicola Sturgeon says the Scottish Government will “hopefully very soon” announce who is taking on the next Northern Isles ferry contract.

She was responding to a question from Orkney MSP Liam McArthur in parliament on Thursday on Transport Scotland’s admission at the Shetland external transport forum this week that the agency cannot say with certainty that the contract will come into force before the 31 October target.

The awarding of the £370 million, eight year contract – currently held by Serco NorthLink – has been delayed due to a legal complaint by private Orkney operator Pentland Ferries to the European Commission over the subsidies included.

The contract was due to be awarded to either Serco or Calmac in August, in the view of service changing hands on 31 October.

However, the legal complaint to the European Commission has not reached its conclusion yet.

McArthur said that the lack of clarity is affecting the forward planning of businesses in Orkney and Shetland.

Sturgeon pointed to the European Commission complaint taking things out of minsters’ hands, but said that the government hopes to announce news soon.

“I absolutely agree that it is very important to communities in both Orkney and Shetland that they have certainty around the future of the contract,” the first minister said.

“The government is very keen to be able to stick to that deadline and we’ll set out hopefully very soon the outcome of that process.”

Speaking after the exchange, McArthur said: “The first minister and transport secretary must now ensure there is no further delay and that the government delivers on its promise to introduce the new lifeline service by the end of next month.”