SERCO has now formally been awarded the next Northern Isles Ferry contract.
The contract was awarded on Wednesday (22 April) and it will run from 30 June 2020.
Serco NorthLink Ferries, which currently operates the service for the Scottish Government, will hold the contract until the end of June 2026, with the option of a further two years.
The company had previously been named as the preferred bidder.
The contract has suffered a number of delays, with the threat of legal action from rival bidder CalMac Ferries the most recent hurdle.
Energy, connectivity and islands minister Paul Wheelhouse said: “I can confirm the next contract to operate the Northern Isles Ferry Services has been formally awarded Serco NorthLink Ferries.
“The contract will run from 30 June 2020 until 30 June 2026, with the option of a further two years.
“This announcement will assure the communities who rely on these services, and the employees who work on them, of the Scottish Government’s continued commitment to the provision of safe, reliable and efficient ferry services to the Northern Isles.”
Kevin Craven, Serco’s chief executive of UK & Europe, said: “We are very proud of our performance since we first won the contract in 2012, during which time we have improved almost every aspect of the service while also significantly reducing the annual subsidy and thereby lowering the burden on the Scottish taxpayer.
“Serco will now build on that track record and success to bring further improvements in the coming years for the communities and businesses of the Northern Isles.”
There has been slightly differing views from Scottish politicians to the news, with Conservative MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston expressing his relief that the contract has finally been awarded.
“Our ferry service is vital to the sustainability of our island communities, and will be more important than ever as we face the current and future challenges of the coronavirus pandemic,” he said.
Green MSP John Finnie, however, said: “I continue to have serious concerns about handing the contract for this lifeline service to a multinational outsourcing company with a dismal industrial relations record.
“This service should be operated exclusively in the interest of islanders, not Serco’s shareholders. The Scottish Government can be assured that I will continue to raise the concerns of workers, trade unions and my northern isles constituents relating to the operation of these vital ferry services.”
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