More criticism for Serco over ferry discount changes

Serco has come under renewed fire over changes to its fare discount scheme which have forced some groups to pay extra for ferry travel south.

Lerwick Community Council plans to write to Scottish ministers arguing disabled people, pensioners and students under-19 should, once again, be given the same concessionary rate they previously enjoyed.

It emerged in March concessions on the normal islander fare had been reduced from 25 per cent to 10 per cent as stipulated in the ferry contract – although the news had not been publicly announced ahead of that month’s external transport forum meeting.

Community councillors in the town met last night and were angered by the move. They want the government to look at the concessionary rate again.

They are also seeking the reintroduction of a so-called group islander discount, which was offered to sporting or community groups.

The discount has effectively been replaced by the new community sponsorship scheme, for which applications must be made.

Members argued the former system should be reinstated, even though the 10 per cent discount is the national concessionary level agreed by the Scottish government.

It followed a strongly-worded letter from Isles MSP Tavish Scott to Serco’s chief executive, Stuart Garrett.

Mr Scott said argued the decision could lead to changes in passenger numbers.

“I believe that the group islander discount was a very useful and helpful mechanism for community and sporting groups,” he stated.

“I note with amazement that there is some acceptance that the ‘new’ sponsorship replaces the group islander discount.

“I am puzzled by this because you personally confirmed to Liam [McArthur] and I that the previous NorthLink company ran both the group discount and an additional sponsorship scheme.

“I can assure you that I continue to receive representations observing many worries about this change and the increased costs that will now apply.

“I think this is a bad move which, I appreciate, has been endorsed by Transport Scotland and the Transport Minister.

“In addition, and equally disturbing, you chose not to tell Liam and I that Serco were reducing the discount rate for pensioners, students and disabled people from 25 per cent to 10 per cent. I hope Serco appreciate that Shetlanders now pay more and in these cases, people who have less to spend on transport pay more.

“I would therefore ask that Serco provides figures for the change in passenger numbers in these categories when the annual passenger statistics are available.”

A separate letter from Serco’s customer care manager, James Linklater, to Lerwick Community Council’s clerk, Katrina Semple, argued the company operated a number of discounts which were specified and funded by the Scottish government.

He urged the community council to contact ZetTrans.

Community councillor Andy Carter told fellow members he had already fallen foul of the changes.

He booked and paid for a trip in January. But before he could make his return in April, he was contacted by Serco, who were seeking an additional £30.

“I told them I was going to take it up with Trading Standards, and I’ve heard nothing from them,” he said.

Stewart Hay argued that if Serco were clear on their position they would not have referred the community council to Shetland’s transport department.


Add Your Comment
  • Gemma Passmore

    • May 7th, 2013 22:22

    The group discounts desperately need looking at! It’s become so expensive now, that we are having to seriously reconsider representing Shetland at mainland races simply due to the cost of getting us and our kit off the island. It’s becoming completely unaffordable now.

  • James thorley

    • May 9th, 2013 0:39

    Me and my carer where planning a trip from paisley up to see your beautiful islands at the start of next month as we both have never been and sadly with reading tonight the disabled concession has been reduced on the ferry we wont be able to come now,instead we will have to do the inner isles as the cal mac ferry’s concession is much better.sad to see the islands have been made more inaccessible to the disabled through this company’s actions and shame on transport Scotland and the minister don’t you know we are the vulnerable but we are still voters you should be increasing concessions not limiting them.
    recently disabled hard worker

  • David Spence

    • May 9th, 2013 12:10

    It seems very evident that Serco are in it purely for maximizing their profits, regardless to the inconvenience and additional cost this may put on organisations and individuals dependent on the islanders discount of 25%.

    It beggers belief that Serco should have any say in regards to the discount, considering it is not them that actually issue it in terms of additional costing.

    It is very obvious that Serco do not really give a hoot about Shetland and Orkney when it comes to providing an adequate service. Stuff the people of the islands, lets screw them for as much money as we can whilst we have this contract, is the philosophy of this company. Northlink, comeback, all it forgiven lol

  • Jerry McIver

    • May 9th, 2013 13:30

    David – you are 100% correct that Serco should not have any say in the concessionary discount. And they don’t. 10% is the level determined to be fair and affordable by the Scottish Government and that that applies right across Scotland for many public services. All they are doing is applying it as they are required to do and that’s the point. Who knows who or how the 25% anomoly ever got approved – did the transport minister of the day turn a blind eye? FOI requests should identify the moment it got an official nod that Scottish Government would pay the extra.
    Outside of that, whatever ‘old Northlink’ chose to do was entirely at its own discretion and has no relevance to now.
    National Concessions in Scotland are 10%. And Scotland includes the islands.

  • David Spence

    • May 9th, 2013 15:32

    Thank you Jerry for the confirmation of the discount.

    I was aware of this discount in regards to specific modes of transport (including passenger boats) but was rather unsure in terms of the justification Serco had in forcing this legislation under the Scottish Government.

    However though, I am intrigued in regards as to why, if this is unique, was a 25% discount towards islanders granted and was adhered to by the previous company Northlink, but is now being ” withdraw ‘ – want for a better word ‘ under the new company of Serco. Did Northlink have the same right to reduce the discount from 25% to 10% when they had the contract or were there other aspects of the contract then vastly different to what the Serco contract is?

    It certainly does bring one’s attention to what arrangements or agreements, if any, there was between Shetland (Council/Business) and the Scottish Office? As you have said ‘ the transport minister of the day turn a blind eye? ‘ or adhering to an ‘ unwritten ‘ rule?

  • David Spence

    • May 9th, 2013 15:38

    ‘ National Concessions in Scotland are 10%. And Scotland includes the islands. ‘

    Jerry, that would be an interesting point to make in regards to Scotland’s legitimate claim to the islands and whether or not it has jurisdiction over the islands? lol Albeit Captain Calamity failing abysmally in the Courts (Local) to force Scotland hand in proving its claim lol

  • JohnTulloch, Arrochar

    • May 9th, 2013 17:46

    Au contraire, David, he failed MAGNIFICENTLY, like Eddie the Eagle in the ski-jump or the guy from Tonga who will, as is customary, “assert his authority” in the first lap of the 1500m in the Commonwealth Games, only to let the others pass, purely out of the goodness of his heart.

    Stuart Hill didn’t have a “snowball’s chance in the hot place” versus Scottish judiciary but he certainly made his presence felt and provided us lesser mortals with some unforgettable entertainment along the way.

    “Viva Stuarte!”

  • rosa steppanova

    • May 9th, 2013 23:59

    Please don’t cloud the Serco fare increase issue with the old chestnut “Scotland’s claim on the isles”. I was given a personal assurance by Stuart Garrett earlier this year that there would be no fare increases to pay for the Serco refit. A few weeks later fares for pensioners, students and the disabled were increased by 15%. I’ve worked in the voluntary sector for several years and have remained in touch with many service users, all of whom find it increasingly difficult to make ends meet. This fare increase means they are no longer in a position to visit friends and family south as frequently as they used to do, which adds to their sense of isolation and social exclusion. This is deplorable.

  • Jerry McIver

    • May 10th, 2013 8:28

    “Did Northlink have the same right to reduce the discount from 25% to 10% when they had the contract”. Right question David, wrong way round. Did Northlink have the right to give discounts at 25% in the first place? Did their contract specify national concessions be given at more than 10%? Does it happen anywhere else in Scotland? A national scheme is just that, not some arbitrary local interpretation, so who approved it? The only way it could have been paid for was by increased subsidy and the operator was ultimately owned by the Transport Minister anyway. Whichever way you look at it, the one currently banging his fist about the loss of the 25% is one of the few who can properly explain how it came to be there. He must have approved it and most certainly was paying for it from his budget.

    If Scotland lost claim to the islands, Aberdeen and Scrabster become a foreign ports. Careful what you wish for. Any obligation on Scotland or the UK to support the link vanishes, as would the air discount and the Rosyth Zeebrugge link become the case example of whats possible under EU rules. Better be prepared to dig deep into the oil fund or see a twice weekly service return.

  • Vivienne Rendall

    • May 10th, 2013 11:36

    Was the 25% discount just for Islanders? My husband and I, pensioners, have been coming to Shetland for many years and have always had just a 10% discount since we became pensioners.

  • Cath Johnstone

    • May 10th, 2013 13:14

    I wonder if anyone can enlighten me on a story that I heard;

    When Northlink ran our life line service they received 40 million from the Goverment to help subsidise the costs of running these service? Part of the contract with Northlink was that they were allowed to make a profit of 1 million however anything made above this had to be put back into the treasurary?

    With the new contract I heard that this has now been changed and the the cap on the profit that Serco northlink can make has now been removed and they can make as much profit as they like?

    I do not know if this is correct but would be very interested in finding out if this is true or not. Has anyone else heard or know anything about this?

  • David Spence

    • May 10th, 2013 13:23

    I am intrigued Jerry in who would have been responsible for the paying to Northlink the extra 15% on top of the 10% discount that us islanders were entitled too (said loosely) before Serco reduced this to 10%.

    I take note of what you have said in regards to the national concession being 10%, but I am interested to know if the Scottish Office was also footing the bill for the extra 15% or was it the Council here taking on this extra cost? If there was an agreement with the Scottish Office and the Council or Northlink (was this extra discount part of the contract?) I would be interested to know why, after such a long time, the Scottish Office either 1) reduced the concession to national rates or 2) put the onus onto the new contract with Serco thus, as you have said, the company towing the line with other national transport concessions.

    I am also interested to know if ‘ Shetlands 25% discount ‘ was unique or did other island area’s have the same?

  • JohnTulloch, Arrochar

    • May 10th, 2013 13:31

    The removal of the the friends and family discount, IMO, is a poor commercial decision.

    I’m not pleading “ill-aff-ness” but we certainly travelled more frequently on the ferry after the discount was introduced AND we started taking our car with us. We have just postponed a trip up in May until we see what the final outcome is and if there’s no discount, there will be no car so unless the car bays are full every night, Sercko are likely to lose money as it’s more economical to hire.

  • John McPhail

    • May 10th, 2013 14:01

    As far as I recal the 25% was only available to islanders. We did rather well. JUst as the airfair reduction was just for us. The rest of the UK population paid more. Fair? Don’t think so as surely their taxes went towards the £25 million odd a year subsidy the route took.

    As per usual there is an undercurrent of conspiracy theory about the comments here and the usual “they’re shafting us” paranoia. IT is really tiresome.

    As for

    “It seems very evident that Serco are in it purely for maximizing their profits”

    As if…Sherlock Holmes on the case methinks.

    Private company’s needs for profit is such an unusaul concept.

  • Jerry McIver

    • May 10th, 2013 15:52

    Vivienne, Islanders get 30% off anyway, plus the 10% national concession. Still leaves an inexplicable 15%.
    Was the extra discount being paid for by SIC? Did they withdraw it? If not it takes us back to someone in Government either approving it, being ignorant of it, or turning a blind eye.

    This isn’t an argument about entitlement, its not hard to find what the contract actually says:
    “Islander Discount: currently administered as a 30% discount on passenger and car tickets for residents.”
    “National concessions: currently 10% concession to senior citizens with a National Entitlement Card, Disabled passengers and those in full time education.”
    “Scotrail Travel Pass and Highland Rover tickets: 20% discount on the seated passenger standard fares purchased on the day of sailing”
    “Blind persons concession: 100% discount of fares for blind people.”

  • David Spence

    • May 10th, 2013 16:37

    John, I am sure you are aware, I expect most companies and shops make a profit on what they sell………However, there is a big difference between making a marginal profit to this of being blatantly ripped-off because ‘ you have the monopoly ‘ as Serco have demonstrated recently with their price hikes and reducing islanders discounts on the elderly, students and disabled.

    Are you the type of person who promotes ‘ profit at any cause regardless to the consequences or being ripped-off is justified as long as the company makes a profit? ‘

  • JohnTulloch, Arrochar

    • May 10th, 2013 20:39

    OK. For two adults in a 2-berth cabin, the cheapest low season price is £52+£70 each way i.e. £122. If you take the £10 breakfast and have dinner that will be, at least, another £30 each, giving a total of £182 per trip or £364 for a return trip comprising two 12hr sailings.

    £364 for 2 nights on a small ferry, hmmm!

    P&O are offering a 7-night cruise on the Ventura to North Norway from 8th, June for £349, I wonder where I should go for my holidays this year?

    Maybe we should ask P&O to come back?

  • JohnTulloch, Arrochar

    • May 10th, 2013 20:41

    Before anyone gets too excited, for clarity, the P&O cruise is £349 per person.

  • Jerry McIver

    • May 10th, 2013 22:27

    David, Serco should only be allowed to give the discounts that the Government and their contract make possible because half the cost of running the whole network is paid for by taxpayers.
    Islanders aren’t getting ripped off. They are getting a service that costs far in excess of what they are being asked to pay for it. That is the whole point of it needing subsidy.
    For Serco to offer discounts beyond their contract and as liberally as old Northlink seems to have done would amount to abuse of public funds. Its not their money to throw around.
    Who knows what profit they make on the business but even I would credit Government with being clever enough to make sure that it was enough to attract companies to want to run the service and be incentivised to to make it efficient so long term, Government has some chance of reducing the level of subsidy needed to run the thing, especially as all Government budgets are under pressure, but not so much as it being easy money.

  • Sandy McMillan

    • May 11th, 2013 0:00

    David, There is a simple explanation when a Sooth Company sails in the Sooth Mooth, once they get a foot hold on Shetland, they treat us Shetlanders as MUGS,
    And then they start to do as they want, as they find out there is no one capable of stopping them.
    The Council should be involved in getting the Scottish Office to step in, why should we loose out because a Company has under priced its contract, and once again it is the under privileged, Pensioners, Disabled, and the Tourist that are being got at,
    The Company in question Serco don’t give a hoot about the locals, they are aiming at the incoming work force at Sullom Voe, especially the Gas Terminal Constructions workers.

  • Ann Shuardson

    • May 11th, 2013 7:48

    Hi another point on fares. We have been coming to Shetland every June for many years, using June as mid season discount, Serco have moved the goal posts . Now the high season starts mid June instead of 1st july. Little more money for Serco.
    Ann Shuardson

  • Bill Adams

    • May 11th, 2013 14:22

    To answer Mrs Rendall, the 25% concessionary discount was for island residents.
    Surely the salient point here is that Serco issued a brochure on their “Magnus”
    re-branding exercise which clearly stated- in black and white- that there was a
    25% discount available on islander fares for concession holders who were island residents. Clearly Serco are trying to backtrack on this in order to maximize their profits from this lucrative contract.
    -Bill Adams
    May 11, 2013

  • larry niven

    • May 11th, 2013 19:38

    why bother with any subsidy, when you do this everyone gets jelous of someone else. serco did not invest in a ferry service they won a contract to run one. scottish government could have drawn up a contract including a price structure allowing for different passenger categories not allowing any fare change by contractor.

  • Jerry McIver

    • May 11th, 2013 23:34

    Sandy, you’re asking that the council go in and demand Scottish Government (the taxpayer) give Shetland residents discounts that nobody else in Scotland gets. Get real. You’d be wasting your time, there is no logical reason why they would do it. Shetland is a long way from being the most poverty struck and desperate county it has to worry about. It is a booming, generally wealthy and successful place.

    There are lots of demands to get independence in decision making. As Shetland residents pay local taxes and the council has a massive oil fund, if islanders really believe disadvantaged groups should get discounts larger than the nationally funded limit, they should ask the council to fund it. Can’t be that difficult to work out how much it would cost.

    Larry, if there was no subsidy fares would be double what they are now. And I’m sure the Government has a contract exactly like you suggest with fares, discounts and annual increases all specified.

  • David Spence

    • May 12th, 2013 1:42

    I expect many people know that the ferries providing lifeline services and supplies to the islands (Orkney as well as the Hebrides) of Shetland are running at a loss. However, this is, as mentioned previously, heavily subsidized by the Scottish Government (I would like to know the SNP’s outlook on these services if Independence is voted for and carried in 2017?) even so, I would like to know what percentage of these services the Scottish Office is paying for in proportion to the profit percentage Serco can make?

    Lets not be spoon fed the tripe of (a most petty and utterly useless excuse for ripping off) that old cliche ‘ leave it up to market forces ‘, despite the fact Serco have the monopoly?

    Yes, as also previously said, people moaned about P & O, Northlink and now Serco………but Serco, whose experience in this industry is, lets say, very limited, have clearly demonstrated that despite having the monopoly, they are taking advantage of this by wishing to maximize their profits regardless to the impact this will have on rural communities………in other words…..stuff the people of Shetland and Orkney, lets screw them for as much money as we can get (and before other people blab on about ‘ business making money/profit ‘ and all that tripe, look at the bigger picture rather than just a part of it.)

  • JohnTulloch, Arrochar

    • May 12th, 2013 21:05

    Sounds like Jerry McIver thinks we are lucky to have the subsidy we get from the Scottish government. He says we are “a long way from being the most poverty struck” but given the 30 percent SIC budget cuts, how long before we are the poorest?

    We are also a very “long way” from Aberdeen, how far is Stornoway from Ullapool? And how many trips to Ullapool could you get for the price of one (overnight) trip to Aberdeen?

    What would it cost a family of four to travel from Stornoway to Inverness with their car and how much would it cost the same group to travel from Lerwick to Aberdeen with their car?

    It sounds indeed as if we ARE lucky, lucky we still have the chance to vote “No” to Jerry’s mates’ grand scheme of Scottish independence when it sounds as if the axe will fall again.

    This is developing into a very sorry affair.

  • JohnTulloch, Arrochar

    • May 12th, 2013 21:26


    I see you attacking the SNP on another thread so I guess my above assumption about your political allegiance was wrong. Sorry about that, I should follow the standards I demand of others.

    However, the point about distance and cost holds.

  • Sandy McMillan

    • May 12th, 2013 22:20

    Jerry, I am not asking for more, just to get reinstate what was there before Serco took over the contract, If I am right it was the Government that awarded the contract, this makes the Government very much in the picture, what I cannot understand is why our representatives either in the Local authority Council, our Westminster MP, and our MSP in Holyrood, are not listening to there Constituents, surely one or the lot of them should be fighting for us Shetlanders and our cause, these guys are getting there money to easily, it is time we heard there voice,
    The BBC Parliament programme which is on at around ten oclock PM, I have never heard Alisdair Carmichael MP, Tavish Scott MSP I have heard once, and I can assure you I watch it every night, (It is time they all stood up and be counted).

  • Jerry McIver

    • May 14th, 2013 20:55

    Sandy, I understand what you are asking for. The point is that it is questionable how and why the extra 15% was ever there in the first place. Whatever mechanism allowed it before should be tried again. But Serco did not take it away. it’s a Government written contract and its 100% clear looking at it on the website that they are only allowed to offer the 10% national concessions. Presumably only the Government, not the operator has the ability to define national concessions. Even if they wanted to offer 25% it would probably put them in breach. Who can blame them for not reinstating it if there are heavy penalties involved.
    Would it ever be right that any private company is allowed to be cavalier with public money? Government concessions are exactly that – extra public money made available to support sensitive groups.
    Agree with you that paid representatives should be arguing the case in a higher forum than the local Shetland Press, that’s nothing more than crowd pleasing hot air.

  • Matt Charles

    • June 29th, 2013 17:11

    As I understand it the contract had mandatory and non-mandatory discounts specified by the Transport Scotland procurement manager. These discounts were classed as non-mandatory and therefore not included. The previous operator being government owned just absorbed them as it had a profit cap. Serco are benefiting from a crap procurement manager/decision.


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