Thursday, 2 December 2021

Scottish ferry services ‘could be nationalised’

GLASGOW: Ferry services in Scotland should be brought under government control if EU rules allow it, the transport minister has said. Humza Yousaf said the Scottish government would prefer to use an “in-house operator” if it is permitted following a European Commission review. The tendering process for Northern Isles and the Gourock-Dunoon ferries is to be paused during the review. The current providers, Serco and Argyll Ferries Ltd, have been informed. The review is expected to last for about nine months and comes after advice from the European Commission. Britain’s exit from the European Union also means ministers will no longer have to comply with EU regulation. Labour welcomed the review saying there was growing pressure for ferry services not to be put out to tender. However, the Conservatives expressed concern that commercial ferry operators could be frozen out in future. The European Commission has advised the Scottish government that future public ferry contracts could be awarded to an in-house operator without the need for tendering.

Mr Yousaf said: “We cannot pre-judge the outcome of the review. 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. “This would, of course, be subject to wider policy and value for money implications and the views of those communities. “We need to give very careful consideration to the potential impact of any changes before final decisions are made. “Pausing the current tendering exercise for the Gourock-Dunoon service will give us time to consider these complex issues so we’re clear on how best to deliver ferry provision in the future.” Big government projects usually have to be put out to tender to meet EU procurement laws. However, a Teckal exemption is an opt-out clause that can be applied in some circumstances.

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