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19 May 2016, 12:37
The retention of west coast ferry services in public ownership has been hailed as "a major victory'' by a transport union.
The RMT welcomed the news public-sector operator Caledonian MacBrayne has been announced as the preferred bidder for the next contract to run the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services network.
The Scottish Government intends to award the eight-year contract to the state-owned firm at the end of the month.
It was competing against Serco Caledonian Ferries Limited for the #1 billion contract to operate the routes.
Transport union RMT was among those who campaigned for the contract to be kept in public ownership.
The union was embroiled in an industrial dispute last year, prompted by their concerns about putting CalMac services out to tender.
General secretary Mick Cash said: "This is a major victory for RMT and its successful defence of the principle of public ownership and operation of lifeline Scottish ferry services.
"The Scottish Government has accepted the union's arguments over the broader social and economic benefits of lifeline ferry services in the west of Scotland remaining in the public sector with CalMac.
"It is also a complete vindication of RMT members' decision to take industrial action in June last year which secured meaningful employment and pension protections in the contract put out to tender by the Scottish Government in July.''
Announcing the preferred bidder, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: "CalMac have a long and proud tradition of running the Clyde and Hebrides routes, and the company is woven into the fabric of the communities they serve.
"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.
"Scottish ministers will retain control of all of important issues, such as fares and timetables, through the public service contract. Vessels and port infrastructure will also remain publicly-owned as they are now.
"This new contract looks to make further improvements to our ferry services and I look forward to CalMac starting the new contract later this year.''
CalMac's contract bid makes almost 350 commitments to improve the service, including investments in vessel and port improvements, increasing traffic, providing more opportunities for local employment and maintaining all existing routes and services as they are now.
It has also committed to retaining the CalMac pension scheme and a policy of no compulsory redundancies.
Martin Dorchester, managing director, said: "We are proud to be given the opportunity to transform ferry passengers' experience across the west coast of Scotland and to work closely with our partners to connect towns, cities and communities like never before.
"Our successful bid demonstrates our ability to provide innovative service improvements and value for money for customers.''
Kevin Craven, chief executive of Serco's UK central government division, said: "We are obviously disappointed by this decision as we believe that we could have made significant improvements to the quality and reliability of these services to the benefit of the communities across the Western Isles.''
Scottish Labour MSP David Stewart said: "Labour welcomes this announcement, which is completely the right decision.
"These ferry services are part of the DNA of our island communities and it is absolutely right that they have stayed in public hands.
"It is clear that a tendering process was not necessary and we have to ask why the SNP government thought it was necessary to go through a costly and time-consuming process, which put the future of a public CalMac at risk, when it simply didn't need to.''
Scottish Green MSP John Finnie said: "This is the right decision by Scottish ministers. Lifeline public services such as west coast ferry routes must be kept in public hands.''