Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan has rejected claims that the tendering process for the Hebridean and Clyde ferry services will be unfair because of unequal provision of pension liabilities between contenders CalMac and Serco.
Speaking just before a day-long strike for ferry workers, he said:  “It is the Scottish Ministers’ intention that the winning tenderer will be obligated to take on a reformed CalMac pension scheme for the duration of the next contract. 
“Whoever wins the tender will have to abide by that requirement.  This means that no advantage will be conferred to either company because of pensions.
“I would also like to welcome the Transport Minister’s announcement of the setting up of an independent procurement reference panel with the aim of ensuring fairness, openness and transparency during this process.”
The panel will be invited to review and offer comment to Transport Scotland on:
• the Initial Invitation to Tender, due to issue on 10 July 2015. 
• the Interim Invitation to Tender, due to issue in autumn 2015.
• the Final Invitation to Tender, due to issue in December 2015.
Transport Scotland will take the views of the panel into account and provide an undertaking to consider all relevant points made by the panel.  Any necessary changes arising from the panel’s assessment would be incorporated in the subsequent or final version of the Invitation to Tender.
The panel will be made up of some six to ten members representing local communities, various sectors or interest groups including the trade unions.
Minister for Transport and Islands Derek Mackay said:  “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.”
Mr Mackay also addressed issues around the tender process:
“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.” 
He said the present government inherited this situation from the previous Labour-Lib Dem Administration and it was that coalition which initiated the first tendering of the contract. 
“Some opposition members who supported the tender then appear to be suggesting that we break EU law, the consequences of which would surely result in challenge.
“If we were not to tender this contract we put the services themselves, the subsidy we provide them with, the routes, the vessels and the investment at risk.  That is not a risk this Government will take.
“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.”