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Transport / CalMac questions ferry contract process after claiming it offered best price

Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland News

CALMAC Ferries has requested more information from the Scottish Government on how it came to pick Serco has the preferred bidder for the next Northern Isles ferry contract after claiming that it offered the best price.

The publicly-owned company missed out on the £345 million contract after government agency Transport Scotland selected current operator Serco last month for the routes connecting Shetland and Orkney with the mainland.

CalMac, however, has now quizzed the government on its scoring system for the tendering process – meaning that the contract has been put into an “extended standstill” period, with the contract still not formally awarded.

Transport Scotland said after revealing the identity of the successful bidder in September that there would be a “10 day standstill period before the contract is formally signed and awarded”.

The contract is due to kick in on 31 October and run for eight years.

Transport Scotland confirmed the preferred bidder was selected on a ratio of 65 per cent price and 35 per quality.

A spokesperson for CalMac’s parent company David MacBrayne Ltd said: “Having won the tender for the Northern Isles ferry services on price, we are in dialogue with Transport Scotland and analysing the detailed information we requested from them about their scoring process.

“As we are still in what is now an extended standstill period, we cannot comment further.”

Scottish islands minister Paul Wheelhouse previously said that Serco was judged to have provided the “most economically advantageous tender under the terms of the competition”.

A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “Until the new contract for the Northern Isles ferry services is awarded this is a live procurement, there is a limit on what can be said at this time, however more detailed information will be provided in due course and when it is more appropriate to do so.”

A commitment to the Scottish Government’s fair work policy was a condition of the tender and evaluation of this criteria also formed part of the decision-making on awarding the contract to Serco.

Upon announcing the successful bidder last month, Transport Scotland also confirmed that Shetlanders would be given an additional 20 per cent cabin discount, while fares would be frozen for three years.

The awarding of the contract has also faced a legal complaint from private Orkney-based operator Pentland Ferries over the level of subsidy in the deal.

Transport Scotland said on Monday that Pentland Ferries’ complaint to the European Commission over the contract is “ongoing”.

The agency said this would not have an impact on the commitment from January 2020 to introduce cheaper cabins for islanders and the three-year freeze.

Shetland News contacted Serco for a response but the company said it had no comment to make.