Isles MSP Tavish Scott has warned the Scottish government not to rush the tendering process for the ferry and freight service currently operated by NorthLink.
With a new contract scheduled to begin next June, and publication of the tender specifications at least a month away, Mr Scott said too little time was being left for proper consultation with the community about its lifeline link.
The last tendering process took 36 months and the one prior to that 27 months, he pointed out.
In a letter to the government Mr Scott said: “This is Shetland’s lifeline ferry service. The islands have no alternative private or public sector shipping company and NorthLink Ferries Ltd provides an essential nightly sailing between Lerwick and Aberdeen. If government plans to have a new tender operating from June 2012, then you will appreciate that time is short, both for the islands affected who will wish to be satisfied that the specification meets the communities’ needs, and for any companies which firstly express an interest to tender, and then are asked by government to submit a full tender.”
Mr Scott also raised his concerns about rumours that the government may seek to split passenger and freight services into separate contracts, saying that he believed that that “would be quite wrong and profoundly dangerous to Shetland’s needs”.
He said that there was no support for such a change.
“I have raised these points with the minister as I am seriously worried that the delays in getting the tendering process going are going to lead to a rushed tender process with insufficient time being provided for consultation on the specification.
“The government’s lack of understanding of our needs was demonstrated by their previous plans to cut the winter services and to slow down the ferries so that they either left too early or arrived too late. We headed the government off then, but the fear is that they will try again to introduce something similar in the new contract. And, if they are indeed thinking about splitting passengers and freight, it shows a fundamental lack of understanding how the two services combine effectively to provide the service we need at the lowest cost. That is why consultation on the tender specification is vital.”