Highlands & Islands

Exemption for ferries network raised with EU and EC

CalMac ferry Image copyright David Dixon/Geograph
Image caption Caledonian MacBrayne continued running of the ferries network faced a rival bid from a private company

European Union and Commission officials are considering whether the Clyde and Hebrides Ferries Network might be exempt from EC tendering rules.

The Scottish government raised the matter with the EC before Caledonian MacBrayne was named preferred bidder for the latest contract.

State-owned CalMac has operated the network for many years.

But a rival bid from a private firm for the new contract was a cause of strikes by workers and a political row.

Transport Minister Humza Yousaf has said that the government and RMT union, which represents a large number of CalMac employees, jointly wrote to Commissioner Violeta Bulc on the matter of an exemption on 1 April this year.

There was then a meeting between the government and European officials on 17 May to discuss the process and timescales for a response.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption The network involves tens of thousands of sailing every year

Mr Yousaf has provided this information in a response to a question on the future of the contract from Highlands and Islands MSP David Stewart.

In his response, the transport minister said: "At that meeting, the commission confirmed a detailed response would require significant analysis by a number of commission services including public procurement, state aid and commission legal services to arrive at a common position before they respond.

"We await their response."

CalMac operates 31 vessels, which provide 135,585 sailings every year - an average of 371 sailings a day - to 24 island destinations and 50 ports.

Its ferries carried more than 4.6 million passengers last year, as well as 1.1 million cars, and 87,000 commercial vehicles.

Confirming CalMac as the preferred bidder for the new contract last month, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the ferry company was "woven into the fabric of the communities they serve".

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