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Union Writes to Transport Secretary on the Future for Northern Isles Ferry Services

NFU Scotland has written to the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Keith Brown, to voice its concerns over the future delivery of lifeline commercial ferry services to Orkney and Shetland.

This follows the announcement in early May that Serco Ltd had been selected as the preferred bidder to provide the service.  NFUS members felt that there had been a disappointing level of contact between the company and key service users such as farmers during the tendering process.  The decision to award the tender to Serco Ltd has subsequently been suspended after another potential service provider lodged a legal challenge.

The reliable, timely and affordable shipping of goods and livestock are fundamental to the food and farming industries on both Orkney and Shetland.  The approach proposed by Serco Ltd had led to islanders questioning whether the current satisfactory level of service that they receive would be maintained in the future.

Writing to Mr Brown, NFU Scotland President Nigel Miller said:

“It is hugely important to the many farmers and crofters on the islands that they have a clear picture on what provisions have been made for them to ship their animals and goods in the future.  The announcement that Serco Ltd had been selected as the preferred bidder for the Northern Isles Ferry services, and was due to begin running services this summer, was a concern due to the lack of engagement that the company had with the industry.

“The legal challenge provides a welcome pause in the process.  It also creates an opportunity to review the specifications on which bids were lodged and secure reassurances that any future provider will deliver the quality of service that has been established in recent years. The current NorthLink service has been delivered through two freight vessels which producers felt met their economic and animal welfare requirements. It is important that any new operator also works to those standards.

“The tendering process did not make it clear, even at a late stage, what level of freight provision was to be provided by the preferred bidder. That was a worry to many of our members given that the freight service is clearly critical to the economic wellbeing of the islands and will play a significant role in future economic development. 

“Livestock movements are a key part of the islands’ economy with significant seasonal demand. During the summer and autumn peak marketing period, it is vital that shipping capacity is available to both Shetland and Orkney. Until such times as the tendering issue has been resolved, we welcome reassurances that the current provision will continue and a more open discussion of future services can now take place.” 

Ends

Contact Bob Carruth on 0131 472 4006

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