The contest to win the £1billion contract to run life-line Hebridean ferry services heated up as finalists submitted rival bids yesterday.
Incumbent operator CalMac Ferries is going head to head with outsourcing group Serco for the Clyde & Hebrides Ferry Services (CHFS) contract which is due to be awarded in May.
They were the only companies which applied to bid for the contract, despite the Scottish Government extending the usual six-year deal to eight years.
Martin Dorchester, managing director of CalMac said he was “confident” the firm would defend its incumbency.
The competition is fierce after CalMac lost the contract to run the Northern Isles ferry service to Orkney and Shetland, which was won by Serco in 2011.
Mr Dorchester said: “I believe the bid we submitted last week is an outstanding piece of work and makes a compelling case for CalMac to win this hugely important contract. I’m confident we will be the clear winner when a decision is reached in May and, if so, I’m determined that we’ll deliver our best service levels yet.
“We’re very proud of CalMac’s rich heritage, but I’m even prouder of the internationally-recognised, customer-focused, ambitious, multi-award winning company we’ve become. Across the network our staff and crews work tirelessly to provide an efficient, reliable, and modern service to the individuals and communities who depend upon us every day.
“CalMac will always put the lifeline ferry services and the needs of the remote communities we serve above any commercial concerns.
“Operating on the west coast is our principal reason to exist. Nobody knows these routes better than us and providing 130,000 sailings a year in some of the most challenging waters in Europe is impressive by any standards. I believe that our vast knowledge and experience of these routes makes CalMac the best qualified and the only credible operator of them now and in the future.”
But Serco hit back claiming it offered better value for money in its bid for the Hebrides ferries.
Serco Bid Director for Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services, Jonathan Riley, said: “After two years of eating, sleeping and breathing CHFS I am delighted to confirm that we are submitting our communities-led ferries proposal on Monday.
“The bid that we will submit is based on improving quality for ferry customers – island residents, tourists and business and delivering better value for money for the Scottish Government. We know that both these factors are critical and our bid is based on the feedback we have received from island communities about the current shortcomings of the service and on our extensive experience of managing transport and maritime operations around the world; CalMac’s vital role in the economy will continue whoever manages the service for Transport Scotland.
“Additionally, everyone knows that Caledonian MacBrayne’s subsidy has increased significantly from over £85million to a forecast of £126million over the past three years whilst the subsidy to NorthLink, operated by Serco has decreased.
“My team have put their hearts and souls into this. We have spent a great deal of time on hundreds of visits to the islands, sitting down and talking to people and it was these conversations that inspired a great deal of our proposal.
“They know what they need, and it’s up to us, the transport experts to collaborate and deliver a better service plan. So that’s what we have done. I have worked in the UK transport industry for over 30 years but I have to admit that I was humbled by the knowledge and passion from the people who rely on these lifeline services.
“We bring substantially deeper experience delivering essential services to remote communities and draw on a wealth of expertise in all the areas we will improve and modernise.
“I am confident that our proposal will improve the services for the people.”