Derek Mackay, Minister for Transport and Islands, has announced today, 24th June, that an independent panel – the Procurement Reference Panel – is being set up to ensure that the procurement of the next Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services [CHFS] contract is fair, open and transparent.
The panel will be made up of some 6 to 10 members representing Local Authorities; Ferry User Groups; Tourism, Economy and Business; Ports and Harbours; Trade Unions; Health, Social Care and Accessibility.
Appointments to the Procurement Reference Panel will be made in due course.
Given procurement rules, the Procurement Reference Panel cannot be involved in evaluating the bids or overseeing the appointment of the successful tenderer. These roles sit solely with Scottish Ministers. The Panel will be invited to review and offer comment to Transport Scotland on:
- the Initial Invitation to Tender, due to be issued on 10th July 2015.
- the Interim Invitation to Tender, due to be issued in Autumn 2015.
- the Final Invitation to Tender, due to be issued in December 2015.
Transport Scotland will take the views of the panel into account; and will undertake to consider all relevant points made.
Any necessary changes arising from the panel’s assessment would be incorporated in the subsequent or final version of the Invitation to Tender.
Mr Mackay says of the innovation: ‘This is an entirely new initiative in the procurement of ferry services in Scotland – the establishment of an independent Procurement Reference Panel to further reinforce our commitment to fairness, openness and transparency in the procurement process.
‘We have already engaged with key stakeholders who have a direct interest in the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services, but this panel will give them additional assurances around the procurement process. It will also allow further important input from local communities and interest groups.
‘As Minister for Transport and Islands, I am well aware of the crucial role these lifeline links play for families and businesses on the West Coast and the Western Isles and there is no doubt the award of the next CHFS contract is an incredibly important moment for Scotland’s island communities.
‘I am convinced this new approach will be welcomed by all of those who live, work and visit communities served by these services.’
The introduction to the process of the Procurement Reference Panel, representing key interests looks a clever and interesting development – although the proposed numbers for its membership seem unnecessarily restrictive given the breadth of the spectrum of interests to be represented on it.
The opportunity for special interests to speak for their perspectives in such a forum will lance a few boils in advance; and the creation of the forum to offer such opportunity will act as a useful flak jacket for Transport Scotland.
On the issue of whether or not there is an imperative to tender these services in EU law, the Minister says: ‘The Scottish Government would rather we did not have to tender these services. My party opposed the initial tender of these services in 2004. However, it has been demonstrated that EU law requires the Scottish Government to do so.
‘I also want to re-emphasise that the current tender process does not involve the Scottish Government selling any assets or controlling interests to the private sector.
‘No matter the outcome, Scottish Ministers will retain ownership and control of all the vessels and ports currently under public ownership.
‘We will set routes, timetables and fares – as we do just now – and we will retain full control of the services provided by the operator through the public service contract.’
This statement illuminates the extent to which Transport Scotland controls these services. We had no idea that the department even sets the timetables in addition to setting the criteria which shape the timetable. It setting the timetables themselves, perhaps, a tad too close to micro-management?
The requirement to tender stems from Council Regulation [EEC] No 3577/92, applying the principle of freedom to provide services to maritime transport within Member States [maritime cabotage], and the relevant provisions of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
The position of the Commission in relation to tendering can be seen clearly from Commission Decision C 16/2008 made on 28th October 2009 in relation to state aid in relation to subsidies for maritime transport services in Scotland.
Local MSP’s response
Michael Russell, SNP MSP for Argyll and Bute, said in the chamber at Holyrood after the Minister’s statement: ‘My constituents will have welcomed, I am sure, the Minister’s definitive, clear and comprehensive statement which went a long way to demolish the very damaging mischief making and misrepresentation about these matters currently coming from the Labour opposition and some others.
‘However it is vital that the Minister ensures that the tender process – which is regrettably a necessity under European Law – emphasises experience and quality of service and not merely price.
‘Accordingly the new and very welcome stakeholder group which the Minister announced and which will add further accountability and transparency to the tender process must be chosen from those who use ferry services all the time and who know from their own experience what is needed on a daily basis by those who rely absolutely on publicly funded ferry services.
‘Cost to the Scottish Government is not the key issue – quality, capacity, regularity and reliability of service are all more important issues.’