Privatisation of Scottish ferry services

Circular No: NP/0209/13/dc


Our ref: S/1/2

9th August 2013

Dear Colleagues

Privatisation of Scottish ferry services

Further to the circular No. 130/12 of 6th June 2012, I am writing to update you on the woeful record of Serco, one year into their six year, £350m (£243m public money; £107m projected profits) contract with the Scottish Government for lifeline ferry services to the Northern Isles.

Since being handed the contract, Serco have embarked on a policy of aggressive profiteering which has had the following effects:

•    Exploitation of passengers – Serco have quickly become deeply unpopular with passengers, as a result of above inflation fare increases, including concessionary fares for pensioners, young people and schools, and even 20-40% increases for sporting and community groups. Passengers also resent Serco’s introduction of charges for the use of on-board facilities such as the restaurant, showers and even toilets.

•    Worsening industrial relations – Despite assurances given to the union that they would not change crewing levels before the winter, Serco announced redundancies in October without prior consultation barely three months into the contract, causing the first industrial action on Scottish ferry services for over 30 years. The company has also used zero hours contracts for some staff working on these routes.
•    Decline in service levels – freight deliveries, including food to the island communities have become less reliable since Serco took over the routes. The breakdown of the MV Hamnavoe in April not only lost a number of passenger and freight sailings between Scrabster and Stromness but exposed Serco’s failure to plan for the temporary loss of a vessel.

Despite Transport Scotland stating it was ‘pleased’ with Serco’s performance in the first year of the 2012-18 Northern Isles contract, the reality of worker and passenger dissatisfaction is clearly acknowledged in the politically cautious opinions of the Transport Minister, Keith Brown MSP and the First Minister, Alex Salmond MSP. On a recent visit to the Shetland Isles, Brown stated that he had been ‘surprised’ that Serco had been awarded the 2012-18 contract (despite being the Minister in charge of the process) and Salmond commented to local journalists that local communities should be more involved in the future tendering process for ferry services.

Local politicians have criticised Serco’s performance in the first year of operating Northern Isles ferry services. Cllr Allan Wishart, Chair of the Regional Transport Partnership in the Shetland Isles commented: “...things altogether are accumulating into, I think, quite a groundswell of cynicism and resentment on the new ferry services. I was quite willing for a year to let it go, see how it worked out...but people are getting more and more disenchanted with the service.”

It is clear that the overwhelming majority of workers, passengers and local politicians believe that privatisation of Northern Isles ferry services has been a failure. We will keep these facts in mind during discussions with the Scottish Government around the 2016-22 Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services contract; the union has had preliminary discussions with the Transport Minister regarding pension and other workforce protections to be included in the next CHFS contract and I will keep you updated on developments in the union’s campaign to stop privatisation of these services.

The union will continue to highlight the damage that the privatisation of Scottish ferry services to the Northern Isles is causing, particularly the impact on our members working on these lifeline ferry services who bear the brunt of Serco’s remorseless pursuit of profit.

I would be grateful if you could bring this to the attention of all members in your branch and I will keep you advised of further developments.
Yours sincerely

Bob Crow
General Secretary