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Friday, 1 September, 2000, 08:33 GMT 09:33 UK
Fears voiced over ferry contract
Calmac ferry
CalMac is bidding to run the service
Concern is increasing over the continued delay in awarding a contract to run ferries between Orkney, Shetland and the Scottish mainland.

Two out of the three operators bidding for the lifeline sea link are putting pressure on the Scottish Executive to make a decision about the contract, which is due to begin in the summer of 2002.

The issue is seen has such importance in the Northern Isles that it will be debated by MSPs in the Scottish Parliament next week.

Current operator P&O Scottish Ferries is facing stiff competition from Caledonian MacBrayne and Serco Denholm for the new contract which carries a public subsidy of more than 11m.

Shetland shore
Ferries provide a vital link to the remote islands
The companies in the bidding process are keen to know the winner so that they can make arrangements for new boats to be built on time.

A decision was expected in March, but repeated delays mean the announcement is now running six months behind schedule.

Morale among ferry crews is said to be suffering, and council and industry leaders on the islands say a decision is urgently needed.

The Scottish Executive insists a decision will be made soon.

A spokesperson added that ministers were sympathetic to the concerns in Orkney and Shetland, but felt it was important to take time to make the correct decision.

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See also:

10 Jul 00 | Scotland
Calmac prepares for routes 'auction'
27 Jun 00 | Scotland
Ferry officers back strikes
26 May 00 | Scotland
CalMac given morale warning
25 May 00 | UK
Ferry safety criticised
14 Jan 00 | Scotland
CalMac 'sale' threat fears
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