Today, after a process which lasted for more than seven years, a tendering procedure which cost in excess of £15 million for the operation of the lifeline ferry services to many of Scotland's islands reached its final stage, with the commencement of a six-year Public Service Contract by the incumbent operator, Caledonian MacBrayne. From the most southerly crossing operated by the company, that between Ardrossan and Brodick, which is served by CALEDONIAN ISLES (seen here arriving at Ardrossan), to its most northerly between Ullapool and Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, CalMac ended up as the sole bidder to operate the services amidst claims of inflexibility in the tender specifications and little commercial incentive to entice others to submit bids.
Right throughout the tendering process, there was much political debate as to whether the whole thing was required or not, with many submissions to the Scottish Executive inferring that demands from the European Commission to conduct the exercise need not have gone ahead. Regardless, now that the final outcome has taken effect, the annual subsidy paid by the Scottish Executive (or Scottish Government as it is now being known) has risen substantially, from £31.4 million in 2006-07 to £43 million for the coming year, which will include a reported £10.4 million for the lease of the vessels from Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd.
Two CalMac ferry services are unaffected. The service between Gourock and Dunoon, subject of a separate tender which at the closing date last November, attracted no bidders, remains as is. It is currently being operated by CalMac on behalf of Cowal Ferries Ltd, a subsidiary set up to take over its running, and also the service that CalMac operates from Ballycastle to Rathlin in Northern Ireland. It is similarly operated by another subsidiary company, Rathlin Ferries Ltd.