Keep Calmac public

Monday 30th November 2015


Last week I backed Labour’s motion in Parliament calling on the Scottish Government to halt the current tendering process for the Clyde and Hebrides 2016-24 ferry services contract.

I did so because private company Serco, who are widely believed to be in lead position to snatch the £1 billion contract, have failed to provide sufficient assurances that they will keep the lights on at Calmac’s headquarters in Gourock. During the debate I welcomed support from the SNP’s Mike Russell, MSP for Argyll and Bute, who shared my concerns.

The RMT union have described Serco as the “specialists in failure based on their appalling track record in public services”. When Serco won the race in 2012 to gain control of the Northern Isles ferry services it was only a matter of time before the company got to work putting profit before people by cutting jobs.

On the day that the Scottish Parliament debated Labour’s motion, new legal advice provided by EU procurement law expert Gordon Nardell QC was published showing that by applying a provision known as the “Teckal exemption” the Scottish Government does not need to put the service out to tender.

Labour may have lost the vote after the debate, but I take some comfort that Transport Minister Derek MacKay has said he will go away and look at the legal arguments again. If there are opportunities to cease the tendering, we should take them. The Government and the Parliament should not just support the trade unions’ right to test the legal arguments but should be side by side with them in that process.

With all those consequences in play for the Inverclyde economy and workers at Calmac HQ in Gourockwhich I mentioned in my column last week, we should leave no stone unturned to ensure we keep Calmac public.