Serco signs contract to continue operating NorthLink Ferries lifeline service

Published: 23 Apr 2020

Serco, the international service company, has signed the contract with the Scottish Government to continue managing and operating the lifeline Northern Isles Ferry Services for passengers and freight between the Scottish mainland and the Orkney Islands and Shetland Islands, providing essential access and supplies for the islanders.  

The new contract will commence on 30 June 2020, immediately following the current contract extension, which has ensured continuity of services for Orkney and Shetland. 

Kevin Craven, Serco Chief Executive UK & Europe, said: “Serco is delighted to have been awarded this new contract with Scottish Ministers and to have the opportunity to continue to provide this lifeline service for the Northern Isles for another six years.

“We are very proud of our performance since we first won the contract in 2012, during which time we have improved almost every aspect of the service while also significantly reducing the annual subsidy and thereby lowering the burden on the Scottish taxpayer.

“Serco will now build on that track record and success to bring further improvements in the coming years for the communities and businesses of the Northern Isles.”

Serco will build on the strengths and experience gained over the past eight years of operating the NorthLink Ferries franchise.  Key features and improvements will include:

  • continuing to undertake 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 2012, when Serco first began managing the service, all aspects have been improved in terms of customer satisfaction, reliability, safety and community support.  Passenger numbers have increased by 18%, vehicle traffic by 38% and freight volumes by 24%. Reliability performance is 99.97%. 

As part of the improvements, two of Serco NorthLink’s ferries now have specially designed ‘Changing Places’ toilets aboard, which passengers with complex disabilities and their carers can use. Changing Places toilets are in addition to standard accessible toilets.

NorthLink Ferries has also cut approximately 210,000 disposable plastic items from its services, including glasses, cups, lids, teaspoons and portion pots, which have all either been removed or replaced with sustainable alternatives.

Employment of people from the local communities has increased by 18% and Serco NorthLink Ferries is the first Scottish ferry company to achieve Investors in People Gold rating.  Furthermore, Serco sources over 80% of food, beverage and retail services from within a 50-mile radius of the operating ports, an increase from 12% since 2012.