Quite why the Scottish government is making such a mess of what ought to be a routine procedure – the framing and tendering out of the Northern Isles ferry service(s) – is mystifying. The current operator, NorthLink, was awarded the existing contract, to run until July next year, in 2006. Yet according to the company’s chief executive Bill Davidson, the government will only shortlist preferred bids by November this year and announce the successful tender early next summer, giving the operator a month or two’s notice before it enters service.
For the first time this week we received a glimpse of the tangible effect the foot-dragging by bureaucrats is likely to have. At the external transport forum Mr Davidson pointed out that group tourism bookings were likely to decline because of the uncertainty over services after July 2012, particularly those who want to come to Shetland via Orkney.
The government ought to be doing what it can to assist the isles in capitalising next year on the success of the 2011 tourism season, one of the best in years, not jeopardising it. Officials need to speed up the process.