Isles MSP Tavish Scott has renewed his call for Audit Scotland to scrutinise the tender process which led to Serco being awarded the lifeline Northern Isles ferry contract.
Together with his Orkney counterpart, Liam McArthur, Mr Scott has written to the Scottish transport and islands minister, Derek Mackay, calling for an examination of the Scottish government’s controversial decision to hand the job to the private operator in 2012.
A row emerged after The Shetland Times revealed a cheaper bid tendered by then incumbent operator NorthLink Ferries was returned unopened. NorthLink, at the time, was a publicly-owned organisation, coming under CalMac’s umbrella.
The Scottish government insists the tendering process was fair, balanced and properly conducted.
Mr Scott said: “It is difficult to understand why the NorthLink bid was not up to the required quality standard. That prompts some obvious questions about whether the public purse received value for money.
“I hope that Audit Scotland will look into all aspects of how this contract was awarded, and that lessons will be learnt in good time for the new contract, due just three years from now. This is our lifeline service and the contract must be handled properly. Any suggestion to the contrary must be fully and independently investigated.”
Mr McArthur added: “It is deeply worrying that an apparently lower bid, from a company already running a good service, was not even examined. For many of my constituents, this has raised all sorts of new questions about the procurement procedure followed by the Scottish government.
“In the past, SNP ministers have cited ‘commercial confidentiality’ to justify withholding information about this contract.
It would appear, therefore, that Audit Scotland is the only body which can get to the bottom of this and I hope that the minister will now agree to such a review.”