It’s a very short time since the revelation that the Scottish Government was about to award the contract for the Northern Isles ferry services to Orkney and Shetland to a competitor of NorthLink Ferries, a state owned operator, a subsidiary of David MacBrayne Limited.
Serco – according to The Guardian, ‘the biggest company you’ve never heard of’, had been made preferred bidder. (For Argyll’s response to this rather strange situation is here: Northern Isles ferry contract sends signals to west coast.)
Serco has very little ferry operating experience but is a major public sector contractor across a wide range of services, including marine support to the Royal Navy.
Earlier today it became known that a third bidder, Streamline Shipping, headquartered in Aberdeen, had lobbed a curve ball into the mix by issuing a legal challenge to the Scottish Government decision, arguing that it had a more powerful case for taking over the service.
In one move, this laid bare the vulnerable position of the ferry operators in the publicly owned MacBrayne group.
By dint of that very relationship, NorthLink is a pawn in someone else’s game. It is not in a position to issue an independent challenge to the Government as Streamline has done. Nor, in similar circumstances, would CalMac be able to do so.
Our analysis of what the Scottish Government is doing in this matter is contained in our earlier article linked above. We feel that it has clear implications for the future of the west coast ferry services.
Streamline is a capable freight shipping company with no background in passenger and vehicular ferry services; but, in its freight moving role, it is already part of the network of lifeline services to the Northern Isles.
So far, while being open about the fact that it has issued this challenge, Streamline is saying nothing about the specific case it feels it has.
Presumably if Streamline’s legal move succeeds, it must reopen the tender process.
Streamline can have no knowledge of the detail of the Serco bid, nor that of any other bidder. A legal challenge could not therefore reopen the tender selectively, allowing only Streamline back into the reckoning.
This will be interesting to watch.
We felt that the Government strategy on the decision it took was pretty readable. NorthLink could do nothing about it but Streamline is free to object and has clearly found a legal basis for so doing.
If the tender is reopened, will NorthLink return to the table?
Either way, how the Scottish Government resolves this situation will be indicative of its intent.
Streamline innovation and collaboration with CalMac
Streamline seem to be an innovative outfit.
To improve customer service and efficiency they suggested trialling the latest IP broadband technology using satellite communication to enable Chip and PIN terminals to work anywhere the satellite signal can be received – even in remote seas.
Just over 18 months ago, one of CalMac’s 29 ferries , MV Lord of the Isles, was fitted with Streamline’s leading-edge broadband-connected card-payment terminals. These are the fastest such terminals available to date – and make use of the client-server authentication technology that obstructs attempts to defraud. This trial was successful CalMac is said to be planning to introduce the technology on other of its ferries.