Work is to begin this month on the first stages of the next North Boats ferry contract, due to come into force in 2018.
The starting point will be a study as part of a process known as Stag (Scottish Transport Appraisal Guidance), which will be supported by a working group which will liaise with Shetland Islands Council, Orkney Islands Council, ZetTrans, HiTrans (Highlands and Islands Transport Partnership) and Transport Scotland.
Meanwhile Transport Scotland, part of the Scottish government, is to appoint consultants to do research, including surveys and technical research, into the requirements for the lifeline service. The tender is now out for preferred consultants.
The working group will guide the consultants and check what they are doing in a process designed to take between 10 and 12 months.
Transport chief Michael Craigie said at a meeting of the council’s external transport forum that the key was to identify all the issues needed by Shetland and Orkney in the lifeline service.
External transport forum chairman Michael Stout said: “We want to learn from the past and not argue about who gets the contract. It’s important to get the contract right for a better service for less money at the end of the day.”