Nautilus has welcomed a Scottish government decision to review the need to put lifeline ferry services out to tender in the future.
Announcing the move, transport minister Humza Yousaf said he wanted to examine the legal, policy and financial implications affecting the procurement of key Scottish ferry services to islands and remote communities.
Following feedback from the European Commission, he said the review would assess whether Scottish ferries could be covered by the ‘Teckal exemption’ which enables some services to be operated by an in-house provider without the need for competitive tendering.
Tendering for the Gourock-Dunoon services have been put on hold while the study takes place, and the minister said it will also address the implications for the planned tendering of the Northern Isles services, as well as assessing the requirement to ensure compliance with EU state aid rules.
‘We cannot pre-judge the outcome of the review,’ Mr Yousaf stressed. ‘However, should it conclude that it would be possible to apply the Teckal exemption and meet state aid rules then we would be minded to provide ferry services through an in-house operator, taking account of the communities they serve.’
Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson commented:
‘I welcome this announcement. We have always maintained that the tender process was unnecessary, costly and unsettling for our members and the communities they serve.
‘However, it is just a review and we have been here before only to be told that the best way to comply with EU state aid guidelines is, after all, to offer a public tender,’ he added. ‘Consequently, our efforts have in recent times has been focused on making sure that the tender specification makes it clear that the job security, employment conditions and pensions of our members must not be jeopardised.
‘But in trying to remain optimistic, I hope this time will be different and the minister will indeed find a way forward which negates the need for a tender and keeps the lifeline ferry services of Scotland in public hands, serving the communities that rely on these lifeline services and rewards the professionalism of the British seafarers who serve these communities.’
National ferry organiser Micky Smyth added:
‘This is something that we have campaigned for over many years, alongside the other ferry unions, and we are delighted the minister has taken our arguments onboard. We also welcome the commitment to involve unions in the review process and Nautilus will make a constructive contribution to the discussions ahead.’