back to article In the bag: Serco 'delighted' to grab £450m ferry and freight deal between Scotland and Northern Isles

Brit outsourcing giant Serco was today named preferred bidder for a six-year £450m ferry and freight services contract between the Scottish mainland and the Orkney and Shetland islands. Serco has been running the service since 2012 and there is an option for Scottish ministers to extend the new contract for a further two years …

  1. djstardust

    Is this...

    The same Serco who are making a complete balls up of the Scottish sleeper service?

    Outsourcing to these vultures just doesn't work for the public, but it does for shareholders and officials who get brown envelopes....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Is this...

      It also helps having a well-connected person on your board.

    2. macjules Silver badge

      Re: Is this...

      The Register might take umbrage at you comparing vultures to companies like Serco.

      Even vultures have standards you know.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Is this...

      I used the ferry service to orkney a year after they took over. It wasn't too bad, in the sense that it ran. But it was definately cut to the bone wrt facilities. Not sure how much else they could trim short of tossing the engines over the sides to save fuel and getting the passengers and crew to row.

      I will say though that my gf at the time left her phone onboard, a member of staff found it and put it in lost property instead of pocketing it (was an old nokia dumbphone, no password) and we got it back a few days after contacting them and paying for postage so top marks for that.

  2. Alister

    What happened to CalMac?

    1. Blergh

      Calmac has never operated this route, and before Northlink/Serco it was P&O.

      1. Alister

        before Northlink/Serco it was P&O.

        Ah yes, of course it was. Thanks.

      2. Northern Diver

        Originally Northlink was a consortium of Calmac and Bank of Scotland specifically set up to take over the contract from P&O. Serco took the name, vessels and shore facilities from the original Northlink when they won the contract the time previous to this renewal.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      What happened to Calmac?

      Would you like another go at that?

      CalMac used to run lots of ferries even if this particular one wasn't one of theirs.

      Running ferries isn't natural territory for Serco, b*ggering up services is what Serco do best.

      Are CalMac still around, and if so what makes Serco preferable to CalMac?

      1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

        Re: What happened to Calmac?

        Calmac are still around and working well... at least they were last June when I took the ferry from Oban to Mull and then Tobermorey to Kilchoan (Ardnamurchan) where it was just a few locals returning from doing their Saturday shopping and me on my Motorcycle.

        To the locals, CalMac are essential to their way of life and treat them as something akin to a bus service. In many places, the bus meets the ferry. If the Ferry is late, the bus runs late.

  3. Dan 55 Silver badge

    Do they have any ferries though?

    Or is that still optional?

    1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

      Re: Do they have any ferries though?

      As this is NOT a Brexit contingency contract awarded by London, but the devolved Scottish Government, chances are they already do, or have valid options on the required vessels.

      --->I'll just get my life jacket

      1. katrinab Silver badge

        Re: Do they have any ferries though?

        They awarded a train contract to a company with no trains, so ...

        1. CommanderGalaxian

          Re: Do they have any ferries though?


        2. anothercynic Silver badge

          Re: Do they have any ferries though?

          Incorrect. Serco leased the old trains from one of the rolling stock companies just like the service they replaced. However, if you think that sleepers that are 40 years old are ok, then by all means, but Serco thought it was definitely time to drag the trains into the 21st century. CAF definitely screwed the pooch (despite intensive testing in the Czech Republic) with glitchy carriages (most people love the new sleeper carriages) and some of the errors in training have led to some... safety issues. That is on Serco to address.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Do they have any ferries though?

        As this is NOT a Brexit contingency contract awarded by London, but the devolved Scottish Government

        ah, so can we even be sure there's an island to run a ferry to?

        1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

          Re: Do they have any ferries though?

          There's always the Isle of Wight. A ferry service all the way from Scotland would be cheaper per mile than crossing The Solent.

      3. CommanderGalaxian

        Re: Do they have any ferries though?

        The Scottish Government have to abide by the rules (UK/EU) as they currently stand. There's an easy way to remove 99% of the problem at the next #IndyRef.

        1. Dan 55 Silver badge

          Re: Do they have any ferries though?

          Isn't indyref2's final goal an independent Scotland which will join the EU?

          1. S4qFBxkFFg

            Re: Do they have any ferries though?

            It is the SNP's goal.

            However, it is important to remember that while the SNP may be the most effective single organisation in getting an independent Scotland, it may struggle with governing an independent Scotland.

            I am not questioning their competence, but rather their ability to maintain their popularity (and therefore, their ability to win elections) once their primary goal is achieved.

            (Analogously, what do you think will happen to Cancer Research's donations if a workable cure for cancer is discovered?)

            In summary, both those who support and oppose the SNP should not expect it to be relatively as powerful as it is now if it achieves its primary goal - its post-independence policies are aspirations, which should not be regarded as as deliverable as its election-to-election policies within the UK.

      4. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

        Re: Do they have any ferries though?

        MV Boaty McBoatface?

    2. Badbob

      Re: Do they have any ferries though?

      Actually no, the Northlink boats are owned by Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL), which was split out from Caledonian MacBrayne a few years ago to comply with EU rules on competition.

      CMAL also own all of CalMac’s vessels as well as much of their port infrastructure, as well as being allowed to bid for commercial work (I believe they operate a port somewhere in Hampshire too), in order to support the finances of the clearly loss making business of maintaining docks on remote Scottish islands.

  4. Simon Rockman


    Fantastic place. I was there yesterday. There is a great wireless museum in Kirkwall.

    1. Maverick

      Re: Orkney

      yes brillaint isn't it?

  5. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

    Serco Maritime Services

    No stranger to UK waters...

    for instance, they provide the tugs to escort Big Lizzie into and out of port

    "Serco manages lifeline ferry services on behalf of our government customers"

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    a smart ticketing system

    read: AI face recognition

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: a smart ticketing system

      Nothing THAT fancy - probably more of the SH_ITSO standard HOPS-based infrastructure that RageCoach and others have deployed nationwide to the pain of passengers e.g. on EMT, and to the level of ineffectiveness/loss-making that lost RageCoach their SouthWest Trains contract after 20 years. Handy440 anyone?

  7. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

    Have you considered a bridge?

    Ha! Serco won't be laughing when Spaffer Johnson builds a bridge to the Northern Isles. Mark my words, by the time our noble and glorious Prime Minister is finished (c. November 2019) there won't be any part of the UK that's unabridged.

    1. Commswonk

      Re: Have you considered a bridge?

      Ha! Serco won't be laughing when Spaffer Johnson builds a bridge to the Northern Isles.

      I have always held the view that politicians + technology don't make for a happy outcome. Hitherto "technology" has always been of the IT variety, but it seems sensible to include civil engineering in the mix now. Even BJ's very small scale garden bridge across the Thames was "a bridge too far".

      (With apologies for conflating it with the 75th Anniversary of Operation Market Garden at Arnhem.)

    2. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

      Re: Have you considered a bridge?

      "When in doubt, erect a Boris bridge… "

      "Why do Boris Johnson’s distraction tactics always seem to involve unfeasible engineering projects?"

  8. Nematode

    All the time, Pentland Ferries are quicker and cheaper (to Orkney - don't serve Shetland) A damn sight more comfortable and less spew-inducing than Serco's floating bricks. The book, about their boss's creation of the route is great. It includes a stinging critique of the cozy relationship between the Scottish "Government" (the one that thought up the crazy Named Person scheme and who think that Independence is a magic bullet and will solve all woes - like, er, Brexit is a magic bullet and solves all woes?) and the big ferry companies. A good read of itself, anyway, if you're "for" the little man.

  9. Fred Dibnah
    Thumb Up

    Minister in charge of ferries

    Paul Wheelhouse.

  10. Claverhouse Silver badge

    Captive Audience

    Scottish minister Paul Wheelhouse said islanders will get a 20 per cent discount on cabin fares on Aberdeen-Kirkwall-Lerwick routes from January. There will also be a three-year fares freeze for islander passengers, non-commercial vehicles and cabins on those routes.

    Aye, tes a handsome discount and no mistake; but mind you this, any lowering to a less generous deduction than 20% and the Islanders will be using their wee helicopters to boycott the ferry.

    They rarely learnt to swim in the old days.

    Particularly with shopping.

  11. herbgold

    Genuine quest for information here: the article talks about Aberdeen-Kirkwall-Lerwick, but what about Scrabster-Stromness? Will Northlink continue running that?

    1. EnviableOne Silver badge


      Currently Scrabster-Stromness is £17.05-£19.90 per adult and £8.60 to £10 per kid, and then an extra £54-60 per standard car and thats a single, so high season (yes its more expensive when the ferry is more full)

      the nuclear familly two adults, two kids in a car both ways is £199.80 and you still need to get to scrabster and pay for accomodation the other side.

      then as per all outsourcers, everything else is extra.

      Pentland ferries get no subsidies and run a cheaper ferry from Gills Bay,

      One could only imagine what prices they could charge if they got the subsidies Serco are raking in

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