Serco NorthLink have been cleared to take over the Northern Isles ferry contract at the end of March after Caledonian MacBrayne withdrew their legal action against the Scottish government.
The current ferry operators were named the preferred bidder for the contract in September 2019, but publicly-owned CalMac ferries challenged the ruling in December which had delayed the awarding of the six-year, £450 million contract.
Transport Scotland announced on Thursday that CalMac had now “withdrawn its legal action”, with islands minister Paul Wheelhouse adding that he was “very pleased” that the issue had been resolved.
“We can now start to focus on the award of the new contract and the benefits it will bring to the communities that are served by these lifeline ferry services.
“These include customer-focused enhancements, such as extra premium cabins, terminal lounge refurbishment at Hatston and extended opening hours for customer services.”
The previous contract was extended by six months to ensure continuity of services for Orkney and Shetland.
Isles MSP Beatrice Wishart accused the Scottish government of having “faffed around” with ferry funding.
“It will be a relief that uncertainty over the delivery of ferry services to Shetland has come to an end.
“Islanders and island businesses have been faced delay after delay to the awarding of the contract for this lifeline service.
“The Scottish government has faffed around about fair ferry funding for the Northern Isles for years. There are now no more excuses.
“We need a clear understanding of when RET and cheaper fares will be delivered for the Northern Isles. It is high time that passengers and businesses are treated justly.”
Conservative list MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston said the government still had questions to answer over the ferry contract. He dubbed the process a “sorry affair” and said it had seen public money wasted.
“Paul Wheelhouse also needs to clarify the current situation with regards to the legal action by another ferry operator in the islands and whether that is still to be concluded.
“SNP ministers in Edinburgh should remember that these are vital links for our islands – and we need a serious approach that ensures our services are protected and improved.
“Unfortunately anything to do with this SNP government and the procurement of ferries – either here in the Northern Isles or elsewhere around the country – seems to result in endless delays, bitter legal disputes, extra costs to taxpayers, and shame-faced announcements from ministers trying to explain where it all went wrong.
“It isn’t good enough, and the people and businesses who rely on a reliable and resilient ferry service deserve far better than this.”