The SNP government in Holyrood has announced the privatising of ferry services connecting the Orkney and Shetland islands with the mainland.
The services are currently run by Northlink, a subsidiary of the state-owned David MacBrayne Ltd. From July onwards the services will be run by Serco. The contract, worth £243 million, will run for six years.
Serco has experience of running just one other ferry crossing — the Woolwich Free Ferry across the River Thames.
But it has a well-established record of bidding for all-and-sundry public sector contracts, both in Britain and abroad: railways, prisons, health services, schools, speed cameras, and Royal Navy and RAF contracts.
Northlink staff will transfer to Serco under TUPE legislation but tha provides only limited protection for the terms and conditions of employment of staff who transfer from one company to another.
As an article in the Argyll News has put it:
“If the Serco proposal is to save the taxpayer money and return a profit for its shareholders, something has to give. Its business plan cannot but impact on staffing levels at some later stage after the TUPE transfer.”
For certain, other ferry services will now be put out to tender. Despite opposition from the unions the SNP government is pressing ahead with plans to put the Clyde and Hebridean ferry services out to tender — a much bigger contract than the Northern Isles one.
The unions will need to combine ongoing campaigning against the SNP’s Ferries Review and defending jobs and terms and conditions in CalMac (the David MacBrayne subsidiary which runs the services at the moment).
Last year the SNP delayed announcing the outcome of the tendering process for the Gourock-Dunoon ferry service until after the Holyrood elections had been held.
Although CalMac won the tender, their bid involved replacing car ferries by foot-passenger ones, closing the ticket offices in both ports, and substantial redundancies amongst the workforce.
This year the SNP sat on their announcement about privatisation the Northern Isles ferry services until the day after the local authority elections had been held.
(They claim, unconvincingly, that the announcement was delayed because civil servants had to go into “purdah” because of the elections.)
Revelations about chummying up with News International’s Rupert Murdoch one week. Privatising a publicly owned service the next. Welcome to the real face of Alex Salmond’s SNP.