Ferries not being privatised, Derek Mackay says

MV Bute departs Rothesay pier. Calmac currently operates the ferry services on Scotland's west coast. Picture: Johnston Press
MV Bute departs Rothesay pier. Calmac currently operates the ferry services on Scotland's west coast. Picture: Johnston Press
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TRANSPORT minister Derek Mackay has insisted the west coast ferry service is not being privatised and accused elements within the Labour Party of creating a toxic atmosphere as tense tendering discussions continue over the lifeline services.

The RMT union has threatened to strike over the tendering process for the Clyde and Hebrides ferry services which it says has left jobs, pensions and conditions “hanging by a thread”.

All of the vessels and ports currently in public ownership will remain in public ownership and, together with Clyde and Hebrides services, remain under public control by Scottish ministers throughout the contract

Derek Mackay

Publicly-owned CalMac Ferries Ltd and private firm Serco Caledonian Ferries Ltd are bidding for a new contract for the services, which are currently operated by CalMac.

Mr Mackay was quizzed on the ongoing dispute during an ill-tempered exchange at Holyrood today after RMT voted by more than 90 per cent for strikes and action short of strikes if they do not receive adequate assurances on jobs, conditions and pensions.

“Regardless of the ownership status of the successful bidder, these ferry services aren’t being privatised,” Mr Mackay said.

“What is being tendered is a public-service contract to operate lifeline services on behalf of Scottish ministers.

“The operator would have to apply for a service specification defined by Scottish ministers and, as now, be subject to stringent contract management conditions.

“All of the vessels and ports currently in public ownership will remain in public ownership and, together with Clyde and Hebrides services, remain under public control by Scottish ministers throughout the contract.

“So, this isn’t privatisation as some elements of the Labour Party say, and much to the regret of the Conservatives.”

Labour MSP Neil Findlay said: “So, let me get this right - a service currently run by the public sector may be run by the private sector and that’s not privatisation?

“The reality is Northern Ferries have gone to Serco, the Sleeper has gone to Serco, ScotRail has gone to the Dutch company Abellio, is it any wonder that the RMT and their members have no confidence in the ministers handling what is going on at the moment?”

Mr Mackay said: “I recall what privatisation looks like as delivered by the Tory government, and it is the ripping apart of public services and leaving it to the private sector.

“That is not what is being proposed. We’re talking about public services, we’re talking about the provision of services as specified by ministers, and they will remain in the ownership and direction of Scottish ministers.

“But Neil Findlay, not unexpectedly, uses intemperate language. I think he would do well not to try and stoke up grievance and try and create a toxic situation for the employees.

“We should be looking after the employees of CalMac, working in partnership with the trade union to arrive at a positive outcome so that we can continue to provide those services in the interests of the communities for which they serve in keeping with the law.”

Presiding Officer Tricia Marwick reprimanded Mr Findlay for heckling through Mr Mackay’s response.

Mr Mackay continued: “Does Neil Findlay suggest that we should break the law? Does he think that would leave us in a satisfactory position?

“No, it would lead to challenge, and the people that would suffer would be the communities and the staff if we didn’t deliver this procurement exercise in line with the necessary procurement legislation.”