23rd March 2019
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MSPs seek assurances that two freight ships will be retained by Serco

5 comments, , by , in News

Fears are mounting that Shetland’s freight service to the mainland may be cut to one ship by the preferred bidder for the lifeline ferry, Serco.

Isles MSP Tavish Scott has voiced his concern that one of NorthLink’s two freight ships, the Hildasay and Heliar, which are leased from Seatruck Ferries, may be dispensed with after the proposed July takeover.

Mr Scott’s comments came after he and his Orkney counterpart Liam McArthur met Serco representatives today.

He will now contact transport minister Keith Brown to stress the importance of the vessels for the islands’ economies.

“We want to make sure that the freight service, that’s very important for the exports of fish, of salmon, of mussels and livestock is maintained and, indeed, enhanced for the future.

“I am concerned we may see the loss of a freight ship – that’s being openly discussed.

“Shetland businesses and the local NFU have been in touch since Friday expressing alarm over any cut to the number of ships and the timetable for the service.

“We have today written to the transport minister looking for assurances that’s not going to happen, and that indeed the service we very much depend on for the economy of our island is going to be enhanced and, in no way, cut back.”

Meanwhile representatives from the maritime union Nautilus International are going round NorthLink’s ships seeking feedback on Friday’s announcement.

A spokesman said there was general concern among staff about Serco, despite transfer arrangements for workers under TUPE regulations.

“There’s nothing to say these are the terms and conditions that will last forever,” he said. “The shipping industry is so competitive, with a very internationalised workforce.

“We want to sit down with them and seek assurances, and make sure there is a shared agenda. This whole tendering process is so deeply divisive, it creates uncertainty for passengers and crews and in the long term it’s really, really bad for services.  he whole business of putting it out to tender is destabilising.”

He added Serco’s selection had “raised eyebrows” among union members, given its limited involvement in ferries. The company currently has only one short service, the Woolwich Free Ferry, although it does have knowledge of marine operations through its involvement with the Royal Navy.

He also commented on the announcement being made on Friday – the same day the Scottish council election results were released. “The timing did seem odd.”  

Although Serco has been named as the preferred bidder, the new contract is not due to be signed until next week.  

That means unsuccessful bidders are still free to challenge the decision.

The standstill period prevents Serco from going into specific detail about what the new contract may contain.


About Ryan Taylor

Ryan Taylor has worked as a reporter since 1995, and has been at The Shetland Times since 2007, covering a wide variety of news topics. Before then he reported for other newspapers in the Highlands, where he was raised, and in Fife, where he began his career with DC Thomson. He also has experience in broadcast journalism with Grampian Television. He has lived in Shetland since 2002, where he harbours an unhealthy interest in old cars and motorbikes.

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  1. Peter Smith

    Maybe the Nats made the announcement on election day to bury the fact they’ve given the contract to a “foreign” company.

  2. Darren Johnson

    Quote from Shetland Times own website

    “International Services Firm Wins North Boat Contract, 4th May 2012

    The three passenger ferries owned by the Royal Bank of Scotland and the two freight boats Hildasay and Heliar, which are leased from Seatruck Ferries, will be maintained on the run for the full six years and NorthLink staff will transfer to Serco”

    Where did this little gem of information come from? Did it just sound good at the time of writing or did it come from say maybe a press release issued by the office of the Scottish Government’s Transport Minister? Could the Shetland Times possibly clarify and if it happens to be the latter it may be a handy bit of information to pass on to Tavish!

  3. Paul Riddell

    This “little gem”, as you refer to it, came from a conversation I had with Charles Carr, spokesman for Serco, on Friday afternoon after the announcement was made. The conversation was necessary because it was unclear from both the Scottish government’s and Serco’s press releases whether the current ships would be retained.
    Paul Riddell

  4. We have SERCO in Western Australia their only concern is profit & service last. The workers will find out the hard way just how much they care about them. I have travelled with Northlink on holidays & could not fault the service far better than some in Australia.
    Be aware of what may be comming.

  5. Bruce Smith

    Totally agree with Jim Richman, I have been in West Aus for 14 years now and SERCO look after the detention camps for asylum seekers ( lots of complaints and riots last few years) , they run the prison transport services ( one death in the back of a van, losing prisoners all the time, and lots of complaints). Always in the news for the wrong reasons.They are a global company and big enough to undercut just about anyone else bidding and big enough not to care if you complain.You get what you pay for. New council , please don’t make this your first big mistake.


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