Fresh pressure applied over North Boats contract

The Scottish government has come under renewed pressure over its handling of the 2012 North Boats contract, with Holyrood politicians and union bosses demanding answers following the latest row.

Labour’s shadow transport and islands minister, David Stewart, has backed calls from local MSP Tavish Scott for

Audit Scotland to investigate the deal. The then publicly-owned incumbent operator NorthLink Ferries was controversially gazumped by major private operator, Serco. The Shetland Times last week revealed that NorthLink’s bid, said to be cheaper than Serco’s, was returned unopened.

The news prompted the RMT Union to raise fears the SNP government was heading down the “Blairite” route of privatising public services.

Mr Stewart last week accused the Scottish government of failing to answer questions over its decision.

“It seems to me procedures haven’t been followed correctly here and I’m very concerned that a well-respected public-sector company has lost a contract in which they were the incumbent,” he said.

The MSP also raised concerns about the renewal of the Hebridean contract next year, insisting he did not wish to see “history repeat itself”.

Tavish Scott  will represent the Liberal Democrats in talks over post-referendum devolution.
Tavish Scott.

“Effectively what we’ve seen is a privatisation of the service.

“It seems bizarre to me that the incumbent contract was not opened and was being treated as non-compatible.

“If there is any evidence that this has not been followed to the letter of the law, then we need to get to the bottom of this. It seems totally bizarre that a contract that was the lowest bid from an incumbent in the public sector is not accepted for some bureaucratic reason which is not totally explained.”

Mr Scott said it was important Audit Scotland investigated the decision. He said he wanted his Orkney counterpart, Liam McArthur, to raise the matter in Holyrood tomorrow.

“The logical and correct body to investigate what did happen with the awarding of the contract for the North Boats is Audit Scotland. They are the nation’s book-keepers, they can have access to any information that they ask for including submissions made on tenders.

“Therefore the government who would not tell parliament about a commercially sensitive decision based on information that would not be released have to tell Audit Scotland.”

Mr Scott recalled the announcement of the contract going to Serco as being on the Friday when local election results were announced.

“If ever that was burying bad news,” he said. “You just don’t pick a big political day if you want to get a good news story out.”

Mr Scott’s comments came as the RMT union demanded a public inquiry into the matter.

National secretary, Steve Todd, said union members would be “very concerned” to learn of the Scottish government’s “instinctive contempt” for public sector bids – particularly now in the run-up to the invitation to tender for the 2016-24 Clyde and Hebrides ferries contract.

“There is a growing feeling that Transport Scotland and the Scottish government are heading, full steam to privatising Clyde and Hebrides ferries services, with the winning bid being announced after the Scottish parliamentary elections in May 2016.

“We hope the Scottish government does not continue to head down the Blairite route of privatising public services but the revelations over their treatment of CalMac’s NorthLink bid does not bode well for Scottish ferry workers and the lifeline services they provide remote communities and passengers.”

The Scottish government has insisted proper procedures were carried out, adding NorthLink’s quality submission failed to meet the minimum requirement laid out in the invitation to tender, which led to the financial submission being returned in accordance with normal practice.


Add Your Comment
  • David Spence

    • May 4th, 2015 18:10

    It beggars belief has to how on earth Serco, ever got the contract if this was based on their experience in this particular industry, which, put bluntly, equals zero. As well as this, it most certainly puts into question the decision process that was used, and whether or not interference from outside circles had an influence in this decision.

    If you base the decision on a companies experience, performance and public feedback, then, again, questions need to be asked and answered as to what were the circumstances in granting this company the contract.

    It is my opinion, I feel political forces, lets say, were at play in the decision making, and not a companies experience and performance the deciding factor in the tendering process.

    The company Serco, certainly does not have a clean or respectable cv, lets say, and once again, puts into question whether other influences were used in favour of the company managing to get the contract, despite previous, well known, highly experienced companies in this industry tendering for the same contract, but failing to get it.

    The whole issue certainly reeks of instead of rats leaving a sinking ship, more like rats running the ship, lets say.

    • john Tulloch

      • May 5th, 2015 11:32


      Do you think this scandal indicates the transport union RMT are right when they say the SNP Scottish government is heading down “Blairite” path of privatisation of public services and that the same is intended to happen with with the Clyde and Hebridean services, in due course?

      If they’re right, that would eliminate the public sector from all the main ferry services which seems odd, given that the perfectly competent Northlink was excluded, even, when they entered a lower tender?

      Will you be voting SNP after this?

      • David Spence

        • May 6th, 2015 22:24

        Well John, this whole debacle certainly requires some scrutiny as to, as said previously, what other factors were involved in the decision making, and were there political forces at play behind the scenes, lets say.

        It certainly does not making any logical sense in giving the contract to a company with little or no experience in this industry. I am pretty many people on the islands were flabbergasted and totally bewildered as to how on earth Serco got a look in, never mind the contract.

        The impression I get is this situation reeks of other factors, out with the tendering process, were at play. I have my own suspicions in regards to the company Serco, and their love affair with the vile Tories, but that is just an aside. lol

      • John Tulloch

        • May 7th, 2015 9:15

        You’re right, David, it doesn’t make any sense, at all – unless you’re trying to privatise the ferry service by stealth, of course?

      • John Tulloch

        • May 7th, 2015 16:18

        Readers may be interested to know that the Argyll newsblog ‘For Argyll’ has followed up on the Shetland Times revelations iwith an analytical article today which I strongly recommend reading.

  • Michael Johnston

    • May 4th, 2015 21:33

    The SNP do not have genuine concerns about Shetland’s interests. They have been in power for 8 years at Holyrood but blame Westminster for all their own failings. The SNP have one ambition which is independence. They are inclined to dictate from Holyrood, reducing powers of local councils. The
    stronger they get the less control we will have of our own affairs.
    Lib Dems have lost support due to joining Tories in a coalition, but are we being fair to criticise them so harshly for such a decision. They had more influence in a coalition than they would have had on the back benches. They caved in on some Lib Dem policies , but as a minority partner could not have been expected to dictate policy, but I am sure they curbed the Tories and made them a better Government than they would have been. SNP on the other hand will not be constructive in Parliament, they are looking to create havoc, and pursue their sole interest of obtaining independence. SNP wave of support is built on inciting Nationalism but their manifesto is untenable and their economic plans are irresponsible. We should support Lib Dems who have looked after our interests for many years and not get taken in by the hype of SNP.

    • Robin Stevenson

      • May 5th, 2015 10:25

      Good idea Michael, the only Lib/Dem left in Scotland, that will have absolutely no power whatsoever, just how effectual would you imagine he’d be? Baring in mind that when Mr Carmichael was in government and secretary of state for Scotland he did what exactly? …Just my opinion but what a completely pointless vote.

  • john irvine

    • May 4th, 2015 23:21

    Vote SNP.


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