The chairman of the SIC environment and transport committee has come to the defence of Serco and its record in providing the isles with its lifeline ferry service.
Michael Stout last night told community councillors in Lerwick that the company’s record in providing a service between Aberdeen and the isles was hard to fault.
His comments came after a letter was sent from Bute Community Council seeking information about the ferry operator’s punctuality and reliability.
The Bute representatives also want to know how the Serco service compares with the old NorthLink operator.
“I was instructed to write to community councils in Shetland and Orkney asking for information about Serco’s performance and how it compares with that of the previous operator,” wrote Bute’s secretary Mick Common.
“Members of Bute Community Council were particularly interested in whether there had been any timetable changes, punctuality and reliability.”
Serco has almost been a dirty word on the west coast, following strike action among RMT Union members working on the lifeline ferries currently operated by Cal Mac.
The dispute has been triggered by the tendering of Clyde and Hebrides ferry services, which could see private company Serco become the new operator.
Concerns have been running high since it emerged the 2012 bid by the public sector actually undercut Serco’s tender, but was rejected by the Scottish government.
Mr Stout told members of the community council he had fielded similar inquiries from other people.
“The standard answer is, through the external transport forum, it’s fair to say Serco have been more than happy to be relatively open about details of their operation, including some commercial aspects,” Mr Stout said.
“In terms of how they’ve operated the service within the constraints of their contract, it’s difficult to be critical.”
The meeting heard it was difficult to give information back without being subjective.
That led community councillor John Fraser to advise not responding to the Bute representatives at all.
“If we were going to respond we’d need to be subjective and we’d need facts and figures,” he said. “We’d be making rods for our own backs.”
Mr Fraser said the community council was not the correct forum to provide the information Bute was looking for.
Chairman Jim Anderson said the service had been as punctual and as reliable as the previous, publicly-owned NorthLink service. But there had been requests for timetable changes which had gone unheeded.
The meeting agreed a letter would be sent back to Bute, stating the information requested would be freely available from Transport Scotland.