THE Scottish Government will explore awarding a contract for Clyde and Hebrides ferry services directly to publicly-owned CalMac.
Transport minister Fiona Hyslop said a direct award would be a “catalyst for positive change” and would help “change the ethos” of the service.
She added this would help deliver better communications with communities and introduce “meaningful” performance indicators.
A due diligence process has been launched to establish the feasibility of a direct award. A final decision is to be taken next summer.
RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch has said the move “is a step in the right direction” which would bring stability to workers and passengers.
The union was keen to see the ferry service remain in public hands and avoid an “expensive and wasteful” tendering process.
Hyslop said: ““I am acutely aware of the vital importance of these lifeline services for our island communities and that is why we must look at the optimum model for the next contract to ensure improvements across the network.
“A direct award to CalMac would help change the ethos of the service by shifting the focus from a commercial arrangement to a model more focused on the delivery of a public service.
"This would help drive service improvements, deliver better communications with communities and introduce meaningful performance indicators that better reflect the experience of passengers using the services.
“It would also provide us with the opportunity to consider adding CalMac as a relevant Authority under the Islands (Scotland) 2018 Act, strengthening the ability of communities to feed into Impact Assessments to inform future changes.
“I want to be very clear that this will not be an extension of the status quo. I expect a direct award to be a catalyst for positive change on the Clyde and Hebrides network, based on a more efficient, flexible model in the delivery of this important public service.”
Last week, the minister told MSPs she believed the “tripartite” system for ferries in the west of Scotland – which brings together CalMac, infrastructure body CMAL and Transport Scotland to run services – should change.
She added the Northern isles ferry contract, which is due to end in 2028, will go out to tender and will not be subject to a direct award.
It was reported earlier this year CalMac could be stripped of its role running the services due to breakdowns and failures among its ageing fleet.
Specialist consultants were brought in the legal, commercial and technical implications of continuing the Scottish Government’s contract with CalMac, which is due for renewal next year.
Lynch said RMT would be meeting with Hyslop to stress the next step should be a “coherent and sustainable” ferry plan underpinned by a permanent “People’s CalMac”.
He added: “This a step in the right direction for the Clyde and Hebrides contract and RMT welcome the decision to explore a direct award.
"A long-term direct award would bring much-needed stability and certainty to workers and passengers on CalMac operated routes and protect public investment.
"We will be meeting Fiona Hyslop to argue that the next step should be a coherent and sustainable ferry plan underpinned by a permanently publicly owned People’s CalMac which has the confidence of ferry passengers, workers and communities alike.
"We will also express our strong opposition to any steps which would see the introduction of new privately operated ferry routes or services outside the operational control of CalMac.”