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North Isles MSPs Press Minister on Freight
Posted on 08 May 2012
Orkney and Shetland MSPs Liam McArthur and Tavish Scott today met representatives from Serco Ltd, following the Scottish Government’s decision on Friday that Serco have been selected as the preferred bidder to provide the lifeline Northern Isles ferry service over the next six years. The new contract is not due to be signed until next week. Until then unsuccessful bidders can challenge the decision by SNP Ministers. This standstill period prevents Serco going into specific detail about what the new contract might contain.
Following today’s meeting, Mr McArthur and Mr Scott have written to the Transport Minister seeking assurances about the future of freight services. This is in light of growing concerns in both Orkney and Shetland that a single freight vessel may be used to deliver the service to both islands.
Commenting on the meeting, Tavish Scott said:
“Freight exports of fresh seafood, livestock and other goods are the essential part of the Northern Isles ferry contract. Shetland businesses and the local NFU have been in touch since Friday expressing alarm over any cut to the number of ships and the timetable for the service. Serco are constrained in what they can say at this stage. However, SNP Transport Minister, Keith Brown must now allay fears in the Northern Isles that the new contract will not see the loss of a freight ship.
“It is clear from all those I have spoken to over recent days that this would constitute a backward step in the quality of the service. That would be unacceptable.
“On the general service this was a useful early meeting with Serco management. While Liam and I were able to press the case on behalf of our constituents on jobs and other key issues, the most important matter to resolve is on freight. That is why today we are seeking immediate clarification from Ministers on what they have agreed to. We have also pressed Serco to recognise the quality of Northlink's service to the Northern Isles and work to improve on that.”
“It was helpful to meet with Serco face to face, but we have agreed to get together again next week, when a more detailed assessment of the new contract will be possible.
“Meantime, we were able to raise a number of concerns and questions that have emerged since the announcement was made last Friday. As well as the serious fears regarding the future of the freight service, a subject I discussed with the local livestock sector in Orkney earlier this week, we highlighted key issues such as timetabling, fare structures, local employment and sourcing.
“On timetabling and pricing, Serco assured us that there would be no changes in the short term, as the company seeks to make a smooth transition. This will include retention of the Northlink name, website and contact numbers. However, Serco clearly have plans to look at introducing changes over the medium to long term and we stressed the need to do this only in close consultation with key stakeholders in the islands.
“The importance of local employment and local sourcing were also issues we raised, and again Serco sought to reassure us about their plans”.
Posted on 08 May 2012
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