95. Shetland only has one route from Aberdeen to Lerwick. Orkney's principal route is across the Pentland Firth and a further route is provided between Aberdeen and Kirkwall. The Pentland Firth is served by three providers, a publicly-funded service operating from Scrabster to Stromness, and two commercial services, one operating between Gill's Bay to St Margaret's Hope, and another summer-only service operating out of John O'Groats.
Assessment of Current Service Provision
96. Our routes and services methodology suggested that services to the Northern Isles were broadly fit for purpose. The service from Aberdeen, as the only service to Shetland, is key but also must enable travel from Orkney to the Scottish mainland and facilitate links between both communities. The Pentland Firth services, taken together, were also considered to be sufficient to meet the needs of the Orkney community. The proposal in the Draft Ferries Plan was therefore to retain a broadly similar level of service to that already provided. This was reflected in the Northern Isles contract for the period 2012 to 2018.
Northern Isles Contract (2012-18)
97. The total value of the new Northern Isles contract represents a Scottish Government investment of more than £243 million over 6 years. Serco NorthLink provide the current contract (contract from 2012 to 2018). Building on the work by the previous operator, Northlink Ferries Ltd, Serco are committed to taking the Northern Isles ferry services forward and passengers will see improvements to the journey experience with: improved ticketing arrangements; premium reclining seats added on board overnight services; and improved catering, hospitality and customer care facilities.
Key service elements to note are:
- Maintaining the 90 minute services from Scrabster to Stromness;
- An assurance that there will be no repetition of the dry dock problems of the previous contract;
- An assurance that services are available for time sensitive freight; and
- An Improved overall passenger experience.
98. The new contract rectifies the difficulties in recent years caused by an extended dry dock period and under the new contract vessels will not be laid up for long periods of time. Hjaltland and Hrossey will not be used to relieve the Scrabster-Stromness route as has happened in the past. A different replacement vessel will be used to cover Hamnavoe's dry-dock periods.
99. The needs of freight customers were also a priority in the specification for the new contract including vital time sensitive freight exports like fish and seasonal livestock and vital imports like supermarket goods.
Orkney and Shetland Isles
100. The services within the Orkney and Shetland Isles are currently the responsibility of the respective local authorities. The Draft Ferries Plan indicated our intention to discuss these and other Local Authority services with the responsible authority if they wished, and through these discussions determine the future responsibility for the services.
101. We have made significant progress with some local authorities, but there is still much to do. Our intention is to progress this work as quickly as possible but it is important that we ensure consistency in our approach across all local authorities. We have therefore provided local authorities with a set of principles that will apply should they wish to transfer responsibility. See Appendix 5.
102. We will continue to work closely with the relevant local authorities on taking this work forward. Further information about progress made with Local Authorities is provided in Chapter 5.