Private firms to bid for CalMac services

There are fears for the future of state-owned Caledonian MacBrayne’s ferry services, as two commercial operators prepare a bid, with a third having expressed potential interest.

The 24 routes currently operated by CalMac are due to go out to tender later this year, with the new contract beginning in October 2013.

Serco, which has secured the Northern Isles service, confirmed last night that it was interested in the Clyde and Hebrides services operated by CalMac. A Serco spokesperson said: “Following the success of our bid for the Northern Isles ferry services, for which we commenced operation in July, we look forward to the Scottish Government inviting bids for the Clyde and Hebrides ferry services.

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“We are very interested in reviewing the requirements and to consider whether Serco can add value to the future operation of those servicves.”

Industry sources say P&O Ferries is also interested in the bid, with a spokesperson for the company saying: “We are aware of the Scottish Government’s intention to invite bids for the services and we are monitoring the situation.

“We are always interested in seeking new opportunities to develop our business and build on the strong route network and quality service that we offer.”

Gordon Ross, managing director of Western Ferries, which runs the car ferry between Gourock and Dunoon, has said that his company will wait for ministers to decide whether the CalMac bundle of routes will be broken up before determining their position.

Last night transport union RMT warned of strike action if ferry crews’ jobs and conditions were put at risk, warning that this was a possibility if the routes were to be broken up and private companies were left in a position to impose different conditions of service. The RMT is now seeking guarantees from the Government, having been previously prepared to take action over a possible threat to crew pensions when Serco took over the routes to Orkney and Shetland from CalMac’s sister company Northlink, before winning guarantees.

RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: “CalMac has a proven track record running these lifeline services. If Serco or anyone else takes over these services and attacks jobs and conditions in the pursuit of profit, RMT will take strike action.”

A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “These routes will continue to be operated as they are at present - under contract to Scottish Ministers, to the highest standards in terms of quality, reliability and service delivery.

“The Scottish Government is absolutely committed to supporting our island and remote communities and ensuring we deliver on a progressive basis safe and reliable ferry services that meet the needs of users.” He added that the agency was delighted a meeting to discuss CalMac had been arranged between Mr Crow of the RMT and transport minister Keith Brown.