Support services company Serco Group has been selected as preferred bidder to continue managing and operating the lifeline Northern Isles Ferry Services.
The ferry services runs passengers and freight between the Scottish mainland and the Orkney Islands and Shetland Islands, providing access and supplies for the islanders.
There is currently a mandatory standstill period following the appointment decision. The new contract is expected to start in the fourth quarter of this year and is worth about £450 million over the initial six-year term. There is an option for Scottish ministers to extend the contract for a further two years, valued at a further £160m.
Serco's main work will include:
Undertaking the planned maintenance and dry docking of the vessels in Scotland, to ensure strong levels of resilience with reduced time away from service;
Improvement of the terminal facilities at Hatston, Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands, and enhanced passenger information systems at all the terminals;
A new smart ticketing system for foot passengers;
A new demand analysis and forecasting model to inform and improve accuracy and confidence in passenger and freight requirements; and
A new 'Green Travel' campaign aimed at customers and employees, together with a new carbon reduction strategy to reduce emissions.
Since Serco first began managing the service in 2012, "all aspects have been improved in terms of customer satisfaction, reliability, safety and community support", according to data collected over this time period.