CALMAC has won the battle against Serco for the west coast ferry contract after its sole rival’s bid was ruled out as “non-compliant”.
The Scottish Government-owned operator was named as “preferred bidder” for the eight-year, £900 million contract to run ferries in the Clyde and Hebrides from 1 October.
CalMac has promised better passenger facilities on board ferries, including shops, and more jobs for local people.
The pledge came as Serco - which The Scotsman revealed last year as CalMac’s only challenger – revealed its bid had dismissed as invalid.
Serco UK central government division chief executive Kevin Craven said: “Serco’s bid sought certain changes to commercial terms aimed at striking a balance between the risks and rewards involved, but in so doing the bid was deemed non-compliant by Transport Scotland.”
Serco, which runs NorthLink Ferries to Orkney and Shetland, declined to elaborate.
However, it admitted to the “low probability of success we had ascribed to this bid”.
However, Transport Scotland said it had not been obliged to award the contract to CalMac by default.
The contract announcement by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was claimed as a victory by unions who campaigned to keep CalMac in public hands.
The firm has agreed to make nearly 350 improvements, include smartcard tickets and a 10 per cent increase in passenger and vehicle traffic.
Ms Sturgeon said: “Their tender offers a good deal for those communities served by these vital transport links and ensures that we can maximise the opportunities to support and nurture our island economies.
“CalMac will better manage demand to drive an increase in traffic, as well as make the ferry services more attractive with the introduction of smart ticketing on key routes.”
CalMac managing director Martin Dorchester, who was confident of being the “clear winner”, said: “Our successful bid demonstrates our ability to provide innovative service improvements and value for money for customers.
“Our bid delivers industry-leading customer care.”