Responding to the announcement today by the Transport Minister, Humza Yousaf MSP, that the Northern Isles Ferry Services contract is to be put out to tender, Orkney’s MSP Liam McArthur welcomed the decision and called for assurances that lessons would be learned from the previous contract process.
Mr McArthur highlighted the lack of transparency and effective involvement of local stakeholders the last time the contract came up for tender, and pressed the Minister to make sure there was no repeat this time round.
Mr Yousaf said that taking the decision now to tender the Northern Isles Ferry Services provides sufficient time to complete what will be a “high-value and complex procurement” before the current extended contract expires in October 2019. At the same time, the Minister made clear that he fully intends to bring the lifeline services contract in-house in future, despite the feedback he acknowledged he has received during recent visits to both Orkney and Shetland.
Commenting on the decision Mr McArthur said:
“Tendering the Northern Isles shipping contact is the best way to deliver a shipping service that meets Orkney’s needs. It is essential, however, that the tender specification fully reflects the interests and future needs of our island economies and local people.
“That will require immediate and ongoing engagement throughout the tendering process with key users of the service, as well as the local authorities. I welcome the Minister’s assurance to me that this will happen, unlike during the last previous procurement.
“Increased capacity on these lifeline services, of course, will be crucial, especially once RET is finally put in place. The evidence from routes where RET already applies suggests that additional capacity will need to feature prominently in the forthcoming contract negotiations.
“Looking further ahead, it was disappointing to hear the Minister insist that the government would not look to tender future contracts. Having made a virtue of take account of the views he heard on his recent visit to Orkney and Shetland, it seems that these will carry no weight in future. This is hardly the message Mr Yousaf should be sending out as parliament prepares to pass his Islands Bill, which commits the government to ‘island proofing’”.