New Ferry Contract set for Northern Isles

4 May 2012
Transport Minister announces preferred bidder

Transport Minister announces preferred bidder

The preferred bidder for the Northern Isles Ferry Services contract has been selected Transport Minister Keith Brown, announced today.

Subject to the satisfactory conclusion of contract arrangements Serco Ltd has won the contract to deliver the new contract which will commence this summer.

The total value of the new contract represents Scottish Government investment of more than £243 million over 6 years.

The new contract will:

  • Maintain 90 minute services from Scrabster to Stromness
  • Ensure there is no repetition of dry dock problems of the previous contract
  • Ensure services are available for time sensitive freight
  • Improve passenger experience

Mr Brown said:

“The Scottish Government is absolutely committed to providing the very best ferry services to Orkney and Shetland to meet the needs of residents, business and visitors alike. 

“Building on the work by Northlink over the last six years, today we are taking the Northern Isles ferry services forward.  Following a full public consultation exercise and a period of open and transparent competition, Serco Ltd has won the contract to  deliver ferry services to the Northern Isles from summer this year until 2018.

“The new contract rectifies many of the difficulties of the one we inherited in particular the recent difficulties with the extended dry dock period.

“The new arrangements ensure we will avoid the situation where vessels have been laid up for long periods of time.  Hjaltland and Hrossay will not be used to relieve the Scrabster-Stromness route as has happened in the past. A different replacement vessel will be used to cover Hamnavoe’s dry-dock periods.

“The needs of vital time sensitive freight exports like fish and seasonal livestock and vital imports like supermarket goods will be met, and the services available for passengers will be improved.

“Passengers will see improvements to the journey experience with improved  ticketing arrangements, premium reclining seats added on board overnight services, and improved catering, hospitality and customer care facilities.

“Crucially, clear commitments that crossing times, including the 90 minute crossing between Scrabster and Stromness, will also be retained.

“Given cuts by Westminster to the Scottish Government’s budget, it is also essential that we make the very most of every penny spent in Scotland, so we will also see the new contract deliver value for money for Scotland’s taxpayers.

“Serco Ltd has prepared a thorough start-up plan setting out what is required to be done to ensure a seamless and managed handover from the current operator, including transfer arrangements for staff under TUPE regulations, in time for the start of the new service. 

“Beyond this new contract, there is more we want to do for communities in the Northern Isles.

“We made clear in our Draft Ferries Plans  that we see RET as the basis for setting fares in Scotland and have stated our clear aim to implement RET-based fares across every route in Scotland, including the Northern Isles. We will set out next year our proposals on how and when that will take place.

“I look forward to the beginning of the new contract this summer which will ensure that people travelling to and from Orkney and Shetland will continue to have access to safe, reliable and affordable ferry services in the future.”


  • All bookings and reservations customers have made with NorthLink for travel this year beyond the current contract period will be honoured in full by Serco Ltd. 
  • Following a full public consultation exercise in 2010 which saw almost 400 responses, the competition for the Northern Isles ferry contract was launched on 23 September 2011.  Structured meetings were held with each bidder to explain the process and review their responses.  Tenders were invited on 13 February 2012 and submitted 5 March 2012. 
  • Following assessment, Serco Ltd were identified as the successful bidder and pre-award letters Alcatel letters) were sent today to all bidders advising them of the outcome. Subject to the successful conclusion of a statutory (10 day) standstill period during which a contract cannot be let, a contract with Serco Ltd will be executed on 15 May. Serco Ltd will assume control of the Northern Isles ferry services from summer 2012.
  • TUPE - The Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations.

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