26th March 2019
Established 1872. Online since 1996.

£10 for a cup of coffee (David Spence)

Of course the well-paid Stuart Garrett is going to defend the company he runs. In his mind, I expect, is profit, profit, greed, greed, profit, profit!

Based on the changes Serco has done, and based on personal experience in using the boat under (profits at all costs) Serco, it is blatantly obvious that Serco is in it mainly to maximize the profits and provide a sub-standard service. After all, improving the service would eat into your profits, wouldn’t it Mr Garrett?

Serco is a prime example of this government’s (this vile Tory government – remember, the Scottish government’s strings are pulled by Westminster) agenda of where private enterprise (aka so-called market forces) will supercede local authority services and where, like Serco, profit and greed will be the priority, and not the provision of an adequate service or product.

Based on my personal experience, I went to the cafe on the boat to get a cup of coffee during the breakfast time, and was told by the person at the till that they would have to charge me £10 for a cup of coffee.

They also informed me, which I am sure they were not advised to do, to pay for the coffee at the bar, otherwise they would have to charge me £10 for a cup of coffee.

I also found out that no matter what you selected at the cafe, the charge was £10. Even if it was a bowl of cereal, toast and a cup of coffee, £10 was the charge.

Serco, to put it bluntly, is an utter disgrace in the way and manner in which it serves the people of Shetland and Orkney, and the contract should be renegotiated as the service is of paramount importance.

David Spence
Commercial Street,


  1. James Mackenzie


    I sympathise with your experience, though I think it’s actually £9.45, with a 20% discount for islanders (on production of a ticket), for breakfast of any size available.

    The staff on the boats are as great as they ever were, in spite of all the changes introduced. I think they have a hard job to do to satisfy both passengers (sorry! customers) and their managers.

    What worries me as well is that Serco runs prison services [sic] at an extortionate cost, the nuclear weapons establishment at Aldermaston, and goodness what else, yet the Scottish Government saw fit to award it this contract.

    I’m not sure that their strings were pulled by Westminster as you say, and I can’t quite reconcile this contract with the “Yes” vote. Can anyone enlighten me further?

  2. David Spence

    Yes James, it was, putting it bluntly, rather a shock to say the least. ok, you may be able to get a full breakfast for the £10.00, but you can also get a full breakfast in some of the cafe’s here in Lerwick for a considerably cheaper price, albeit they are not on a boat lol

    I really do not know if the contract given to Serco, was influenced by Westminster, but I suspect, given Serco’s previous and present relationship, lets say, with the Tory Government, it would not surprise me if Westminster had some say and possible decision in who gets the contract.

    I do not know either if, like Northlink, Serco was the cheapest bid in the tendering of the contract. It would be interesting to know why Serco got the contract and on what basis, given the fact they have very little experience in this type of industry.

  3. Colin Hunter

    It’s a strange thing, but I always thought the boat was supposed to be the cheap option! No more! If you book in plenty of time the plane is £38.14 to Aberdeen. Dinner and breakfast on the boat will get you most of the way, add a couple of pints in the bar or a few cups of tea/coffee and you’re there! AND you get a FREE cup of tea and a biscuit on the plane as well! What would that come to in Serco speak? £3.50? £4.00? If we round it up, I think it’s safe to say you can get to Aberdeen for the price of about 10 Serco cups of tea and biscuits! Sobering thought, isn’t it!

  4. Bill Adams

    I take your point James that the cost of a breakfast is £9 45 reduced by islander discount. The point is that previously you only paid for the items you bought but now you are charged a flat-rate price irrespective of how much you want to eat.
    By any standard that is a rip-off.

  5. David Spence

    ‘ I always thought the boat was supposed to be the cheap option! ‘

    Not if Serco have anything to do with it, Colin lol

    On a more serious note, Serco, I believe, are going to have a massive impact in a negative way towards tourism and/or people visiting relatives and friends on the islands or vice-versa.

    I think Serco, are a prime example, regrettably, of things to come if this vile Tory Government gets it’s way in the privatization of all Local Authority Services and the NHS.

    I sincerely hope, like the Poll Tax, people revolt against this vile, despicable Tory Government before they turn this country into a society, like years go by, where the rich and powerful oppress everybody else and where profit, greed, exploitation (lying, cheating, deceiving, dishonesty, corruption of the highest order….but to name a few traits of this Government) and the dreaded share bloody holders are the fabric and foundation of this country, regrettably.

  6. there should be a law , stating that when tenders come up to provide a service, ie northlink ferries, the lowest tender must be in line with the present tender of the day, after all, that tender was awarded against competition, any tender lower must mean conflict between Serco and its employees, as was witnessed by the arguements over , pensions, cutting staff etc, the boat is purely a cash cow , purely for profit, even admission to the cinema is increased, I would think the Tory Government intervened, ( looking after it’s wealthy friends, ) I don’t think Edinburgh was involved but as with one of the most secretive governments in the world , London ” we’ll never know ” finally I booked a return flight to Edinburgh , well in advance admittedly, price £116. RETURN free tea, travel time one hour twenty minutes, and cancellations , highly unlikely. Henry Condy Cunningsburgh

  7. James Mackenzie

    I agree with you totally Bill.

    I won’t go into the reasons, but I had the chance to be, not at my own expense, in the St. Magnus Lounge recently.

    My sympathies went to the waitress who seemed to be run off her feet, and that wasn’t because the lounge was packed, in fact quite the opposite, although there was a lot of passengers on board the boat that night.

  8. a few cups of coffee is dearer than petrol well done torys and lib dems roll on ukip taking over this greedy country

  9. The blame for the north isles having Serco running the ferries lies with Salmond’s SNP government nobody else. The tory/lib dems can be blamed for a lot of things but not the Shetland and Orkney ferry service. Get your facts straight!

    Raymond Smith

  10. Colin Hunter

    David Spence is absolutely right when he says that it’s going to have an adverse effect on people visiting relations etc. My in-laws usually visit once a year in May/June. This year they said they were going to have to reduce to once every other year as the total price for them, car and cabin had risen to over £470. Oddly enough, exactly the same as it would have cost us to go South in September. I was under the impression that islanders were meant to get a concession, or is that only in the cafeteria if you show your ticket to the steward?
    Needless to say, I have cancelled the ferry and booked the plane and a hire car for the 12 days. It’s cheaper and we’ve gained a day on the mainland!

  11. gilbert burgess

    agree with raymond the mess we find ourselves in with the ferries is the fault of alec salmond and the snp absolutely no one else.

  12. Johan Adamson

    I noticed that the boat is just the same price for us now as for visitors coming up. We booked a car and cabin to go away for about £500 and visitors came up in the height of summer for £600. Where is our subsidy going?

  13. Colin Hunter

    In reply to Raymond Burgess, I would remind him that it was a previous Labour administration in Holyrood who first decided it was neccessary to put the service out to tender. This resulted in the destruction of P&O Scottish ferries and ALL their transport infrastructure in Northern Scotland. It was replaced by Northlink who immediately discovered that the ships which had been “purpose built” for the service were uneconomical in the extreme and then had to go running, cap in hand, back to Holyrood for more money. I believe P&Os subsidy was less than a quarter of that which Northlink finally ended up with. You can’t blame Eck for everything. Perhaps they were just trying to make the best of an already bad job. Gone badly wrong though! They say you can’t make a silk purse out of a sows ear. Seems quite easy to acheive the opposite!

  14. Colin Hunter

    Apologies! That should have read, Raymond Smith and Gilbert Burgess!

  15. John Tulloch

    North Link was a quantum leap up from P&O, no disrepect to the staff of P&O who were fine.

  16. Ali Inkster

    Whether it was snp or Scottish Labour makes no odds the cockup up began in hollyrood

  17. rosa steppanova

    Price hike apart (15% increase for pensioners, students and disabled passengers), I find the new Serco punishment regime for those who can’t get/afford cabins particularly vile. Those who can’t sleep in a chair used to get a reasonably good night stretched out on one of the bar benches. This, due to the Serco wood and metal divisions, is no longer possible, and nights on the boat sans cabin must now be spent in great discomfort. I’m sure inmates of Serco prisons aren’t expected to sleep on a hard floor, so why are islanders and visitors subjected to this?

  18. David Spence

    Good Point, Rosa.

    I think we should all (Shetlanders and Orcadians, if they want to join) have a mass protest against this vile, greedy, massive profit orientated company called Serco.

    The political system is a complete waste of time, as politicians (like all capitalists) are in it for themselves rather than represent the people in their constituency, or do not listen unless they, the politicians, benefit from it themselves.

  19. Bill Adams

    It is Raymond Smith who needs to get his facts right. It is utterly ridiculous for Gilbert Burgess to suggest that these ferry problems are due to our present SNP Government.
    Because state aid is involved, European Union rules & regulations require that contract renewals have to go out to competitive tender. I think Northlink were a bit complacent as the incumbent operator whereas Serco took a fine tooth comb to the commercial data made available to all the bidders to see where they could make savings and economies. As a result their bid must have undercut Northlink
    leaving the Government no option but to accept it.
    Of course having cut the basic service to the bone in order to win the contract
    the only way Serco can make money is from “hotel services” on board hence
    the cuts in the number of catering staff and the escalation of food prices.

  20. Johan Adamson

    And fiddle the subsidy Bill Adams?

  21. John Tulloch

    Bill Adams. Hiding behind the skirts of the EU regulations, nothing new for thenSNP there, then – “da aald cock craws an’ da young een lairns!

    Really, who drafted the contract and let it, you’ll be telling us next that was London and Brussels, too?

  22. Nothing sticks to the SNP Salmond run government when its own members blame everybody but themselves for Serco. I agree with John Tulloch and Gilbert Burgess. Their is a private run company Pentland Ferries who operate between St Margaret’s Hope and Gills Bay with no subsidy. ( In fact Andrew Banks of PF as stated that if he was awarded subsidy he would allow foot passengers to travel free.) What would happen to the lifeline Aberdeen Lerwick service if one of the ships developed a fault like the Hamnavoe did earlier this year? It was out of commission for a month. No provision for a replacement ship in the contract. If the first contract given to Northlink was so wrong why didn’t the SNP change the terms for the new tendering process. Raymond Smith, Kirkwall

  23. Bill Adams

    What do you know about it John ,down there in Arrochar ?
    The basic contract was inherited from the previous administration – that is part of the present problem.
    For your information the previous administration were also subject to EU regulations in regard to the previous Northlink contract – I don’t make the rules and
    neither do you – it is officials in Brussels who do , unfortunately.

  24. Karen Angus

    “Serco, the biggest company you’ve never heard of.”

    Interesting wee 2&1/2 minute clip on youtube someone directed me to:


  25. John Tulloch

    Bill Adams. Living in Arrochar – in the SNP territory of Argyll – means I have been a regular user of Northlink over the past few years. I found it an excellent service, the contract for which was let by a previous administration and I was dismayed when Northlink were booted out.

    As I understand it, EU regulations apply to contracts over a certain size however I am unaware of any requirement to accept the cheapest price. When the cheapest price leads to an ambush of cuts and charges, later, it effectively becomes a “stealth tax” on users.

    The last contract, in my opinion as a user, was successful however recent user accounts suggest the handling of the contracthas been, arguably, a disaster.

    If so, responsibility for it lies at the door of those who let the contract i.e. the present administration.

  26. Colin Hunter

    I agree absolutely with Rosa Steppanova. The divisions which have been put in the couches are vile. That and the £18 charge to sit in a separate area, which just smacks of snobbery and privelege, for actually very little. What is being forgotten by Serco is that this is first and foremost a Lifeline FERRY service. It is not a cruise to the Northern Isles. It’s a bus that floats! I, personally think it is absolutely abhorent for any company to try to make a profit from a publicly subsidised lifeline service. If any profit is made, it should be seen as cost savings and either ploughed back into the service to improve it, or given back o the Scottish Government, not handed to shareholders or already overpaid directors as “bonuses”.

  27. Eddie Barclay (Snr)

    Hear, Hear Colin

  28. David Spence

    I totally agree with you there Colin. However, despite what devolved power Scotland may have (which is a joke any way) I still do believe that Westminster had a influence in the decision to give Serco the contract.

    Example : Serco share holder’s donating £1 million to the Tory Party. They have also been banned by various countries because they are deemed unethical in their business practices.

    It really beggar’s belief that such a vile company can get the contract, and on what basis.

    I am sure if you dig deep enough, it won’t take a rocket scientist to realize the connections and the unjustified reasons why ‘ these cowboys ‘ got the contract.

    I will be intrigued in relation to Serco’s exceedingly over charges for their ‘ poor prison services ‘, if they will be admitting extortionate charges to the Scottish Office for their abysmal service to the Shetland and Orkey Islands?

  29. John Tulloch


    The Scottish government is responsible for letting the contract and have the power to award it so perhaps you can put a bit more flesh on your allegation, otherwise, it must remain in the realms of fantasy.

  30. fraser cluness

    Why go to the cafe for coffee when you can make a ‘free’ one in the over priced cabins?

    The price plan they have is the same as you get in many hotels now, like travellodge.
    I would have left it as it was personelly, but new broom wants to try new things. If they dont work they will change it to something else.

    i never liked the changed from P&O, apart from the prospect of getting a new boat (i wonder what P&O was going to come with if northlink didnt get the origonal contract).

    In my mind bring back P&O at least they know how to run a ferry. we need a tried and tested company that knows what they are doing and not like northlink and serco who seem to have spent the last decade making it up as they go along.

  31. John N Hunter

    I read a comment yesterday retweeted by Northlink from a passenger commenting what a bargain the all you can eat fried breakfast was at £9.95! As Fraser Cluness says that is equivalent to a Travelodge or similar.

  32. fraser cluness

    Saying that, i was in a travelodge in July and i can tell you i wasnt that imprersed, northlink is miles better, but there again, since the change i usualy nip to asda and have the full english there!

    I also sometimes take the pots of instant porrage and have breakfast in bed!

    There loss!

  33. Colin Hunter

    The only problem with an “All you can eat” breakfast on the boat, is that at six in the morning, very few people feel like, or are capable of eating very much at all! The most that I want at that time is a cuppa and a glass of fresh orange juice and possibly a slice of toast. There is no way anyone is going to stump up a tenner for that! I have heard stories of people loading up the plate and sharing it out at the tables! Good thinking, but is that entering into the “Serco Spirit”? I think not! Whatever happened to freedom of choice?
    No, if I ever go on the boat again, it will be a cuppa in the cabin, then down the road to Stracathro for a breakfast. I’m usually feeling like it by then!

  34. Harry Dent

    Couple of problems with a cup of coffee in the cabin:

    1) In common with hotels that provide tea and coffee making facilities, the ferry company (Northlink as well as Serco) is so mean – two or three cups is nowhere near enough for a 12 hour crossing.

    2) It’s not an option for those of us who can no longer afford a cabin. Looks like I’ll be taking a flask.

    In other news, it’s interesting to note that Serco workers in London are currently taking 48 hours strike action as part of their campaign against poor wages and conditions on the bicycle hire scheme. Serco’s connections may help secure it some juicy contracts, but it faces the ire of customers and workers wherever it rears its ugly head.

  35. David Spence

    In what a previous person has mentioned about over filling your plate at Breakfast Time (all you can eat lol)…..Great Idea……..It would be a fine thing to do to Serco…….turn the tables to the advantage of the consumer…….sorry, passenger.

    So folks, the next time you are on the boat, and if there are two, three, four of you….whatever, take as much as you can on your plate (geee I have an exceptionally large appetite lol) and dish it out to everybody else at the table……..bring your own plate though…….but help yourself to the cutlery at the cafe…..its free to use (so far) lol………just a passing thought lol

  36. Maynard Farrell

    Great video about Serco you should see!



Your Comment

Please note, it is the policy of The Shetland Times to publish comments and letters from named individuals only. Both forename and surname are required.

Comments are moderated. Contributors must observe normal standards of decency and tolerance for the opinions of others.

The views expressed are those of contributors and not of The Shetland Times.

The Shetland Times reserves the right to decline or remove any contribution without notice or stating reason.

Comments are limited to 200 words but please email longer articles or letters to editorial@shetlandtimes.co.uk for consideration and include a daytime telephone number and your address. If emailing information in confidence please put "Not for publication" in both the subject line and at the top of the main message.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.