The ‘pause’ in tendering for the Gourock to Dunoon ferry contract has been ended, with the possibility of a car ferry to the town centre being floated once again.
This week’s announcement by Minister for Transport and the Islands Humza Yousaf could affect the future of Kilcreggan’s ferry, which is expected to be integrated into the Dunoon contract once it has been running for a year.
SPT is still evaluating tenders to run the Kilcreggan service from next July onwards.
Mr Yousaf said: “We will get the current tender for the Gourock to Dunoon ferry service back under way, given our long-standing commitment and the local community’s desire for a vehicle-carrying service on the town centre route. The next stage will be the invitation to tender, which will be issued as soon as possible.
“Making sure our ferry services support our island and remote rural communities remains at the heart of this exercise. We will ensure that these iconic services continue to play a vital role for the people and industries that depend on them.”
He ‘paused’ the tender process in February, saying there had been new legal advice on the ‘Teckal exemption’ and EU state aid rules – at that point four companies had passed the pre-qualification stage and had been invited to tender for the Dunoon contract, which specified 40-metre boats, with companies having the option of leasing the Ali Cat and Argyll Flyer, which currently the route, if there was a delay until new boats were available.
No Mr Yousaf has said that an update on the ongoing procurement policy review indicates that a direct award to an in-house provider, such as CalMac, would be possible without a tendering process being required if it complies with EU rules.
“As we said at the start of this review process, it is the Scottish Government’s preference to directly award ferry contracts to an in-house provider, subject to the views of local communities and stakeholders,” he added.
“I’m pleased to say that the indications so far are encouraging, but Transport Scotland officials are still working on the potential impact of complex state aid requirements on making such an award.”
The announcement was swiftly welcomed by Argyll and Bute Council, which has long pushed for a vehicle ferry to Dunoon town centre despite Western Ferries operating without a state subsidy on a nearby route.
Ironically, the linkspan at Dunoon, which was built at a cost of £5.4m but has never been used for vehicles, broke down this week meaning that Argyll ferries sailings had to be cancelled.
Roddy McCuish, the council’s policy lead for roads and amenity services,
said: “ Good transport connectivity is vital to the people and economy of Argyll and Bute. There is no doubt that an improved ferry service, with the capability to carry vehicles, will help realise that ambition, and be of benefit to local people.
“The people of Dunoon and Cowal have been clear that they want a town centre to town centre vehicle and passenger ferry service. As part of our work to support this process, the council will bring a report on its review of fees and charges to its harbour board meeting in January.
“Today’s announcement is good news for the people of Dunoon and Argyll and Bute as a whole.”