To ask the Scottish Executive whether it will set out the steps it is taking in co-operation with the Northern Ireland administration to attract an operator to run a ferry service between Campbeltown and Ballycastle.
The Scottish Executive in co-operation with the Northern Ireland administration initiated a tendering exercise in 2005 for a subsidised public service contract to operate a passenger and vehicle ferry service between Campbeltown in Argyll and Ballycastle in Antrim, Northern Ireland. Following a pre-qualification exercise, an Invitation to Tender was issued to four companies on 20 September, requesting submission of tenders by 10 January 2006. The Executive was disappointed that no tenders were submitted.
The Scottish Executive has reviewed the reasons for this outcome and has also investigated whether there are any options available which would allow reinstatement of the service within the terms of the 2005-06 tender. The main terms of the tender were a five year contract offering a service for 11 months of the year with a maximum annual grant of £1 million per year for a passenger and vehicle ferry service between the two ports.
The Executive is aware of the strong support for the reinstatement of the service voiced in both Kintyre and Antrim and of the local disappointment at the outcome of the tendering process. The Executive has therefore agreed with the Northern Ireland administration that a final effort should be made to identify any potential ferry operator interested in submitting a tender to provide the service under a negotiated procedure. The procurement rules permit this provided that the operator meets the original qualification criteria for the competition and that the tender complies fully with the original terms of the Invitation to Tender issued for this exercise.
These investigations will require time to pursue and it is not possible to place a precise timescale on them in advance, but every effort will be made to establish the position as soon as practicable.