A FERRY operator serving the north-east has been awarded preferred bidder status to continue its service.
Serco Northlink Ferries is the leading contender for the £345 million contract for the link between Aberdeen, Kirkwall and Lerwick.
The company already operates the Northern Isles connection and the new deal will run for eight years. The new contract begins on October 31.
It will also mean an upgrade for on-board facilities with improvements to cabins. From January islanders will be given a 20% discount on fares.
There will also be a three-year freeze on fares for passengers, non-commercial vehicles and cabins on those routes.
Islands minister Paul Wheelhouse was in Aberdeen yesterday to announce Serco Northlink had secured preferred bidder status.
Calmac and another unknown company were also in the running for the ferry contract.
However, Mr Wheelhouse said Serco’s bid stood out among the transport firms attempting to land the contract.
He said: “Every public procurement is balanced on quality and price and in this case 35% of the weight was on quality.
“The successful bid scored very highly in that area in terms of investment in the fleet and the quality of the service going forward. That is not to criticise Calmac, who put forward a strong bid as well.
“But the high quality of what was being proposed was what impressed those who undertook the evaluation for ministers.”
John Whitehurst, Serco’s managing director of transport, welcomed the government’s decision to award his company preferred bidder status.
He said: “I’m absolutely delighted Serco have been announced as preferred bidder so we can continue our partnership with Transport Scotland on Northlink Ferries.
“It is a lifeline contract operated out of Aberdeen up to Shetland and Orkney, not only for passengers but also a huge amount of freight.
“Going forward we are going to upgrade some of the cabins, upgrade some of the terminals and introduce smart ticketing for foot passengers.”
But Scottish Green MSP John Finnie slammed the move and said he was “astonished” with the decision.
He said: “I’m astonished that the Scottish Government has decided to maintain its relationship with such a disreputable company by selecting them as the preferred bidder for the lifeline northern isles ferry services.
“My constituents in Orkney and Shetland deserve a ferry service that is run exclusively in the interest of island communities, but instead the Scottish Government’s proposal will see a service run exclusively in the interest of private shareholders.”