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CalMac to remain in public ownership

29 May 2016

The 1985-built Caledonian MacBrayne ferry leaving Skye for Harris. Photo Mn28 (CC-BY-SA 3.0.)

Operation of the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services is to remain in public ownership for at least the next eight years. This victory follows an RMT campaign against a possible takeover by Serco, with action including a walkout of CalMac members last summer.

A new contract was awarded to the state-owned operator Caledonian MacBrayne (“CalMac”). A bid by the private sector operator Serco was deemed “non-compliant”. Serco currently operates the Northlink Ferries service to Orkney and Shetland  as well as the Caledonian Sleeper rail franchise.

EU rules

SNP ministers used EU rules to justify inviting private bidders to compete against CalMac for the Clyde and Hebrides ferry services, a fact more workers in Scotland should bear in mind before the EU referendum vote on 23 June.

The SNP government had already privatised the Northern Isles ferry services, in May 2012, when CalMac (which previously ran the service) lost out. This ferry service is out for tender again in 2017 for award in 2018.

Hiding behind a review of the bids by Transport Scotland and the convenient ruling out of the Serco bid does not absolve the SNP of acting against the interests of ferry service workers and threatening their jobs, pensions, pay and conditions.

Consultation con

The SNP claims public backing for such actions based on consultation carried out in 2011 as part of its Draft Ferries Plan. But as the RMT has pointed out, the question asked was about allowing “operators the flexibility to innovate and reduce costs where possible”. There was no straightforward question about supporting a privately run ferry service such as later transpired for Orkney and Shetland when Serco was awarded the contract.

Unions, particularly the RMT, welcomed the announcement which came with a statement that there would be no compulsory redundancies and no change to the CalMac pension scheme.