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Changes planned for Northern Isles Ferry service

Date: 07 Dec 2006 00:00 Source: Shetland Marine News

Northern Isles ferry operator NorthLink may reduce the number of crew sailing on their three ferries as part of a service organisation review.

Company managers were adamant yesterday (Wednesday) that any redundancies would be voluntary.

Managing director Bill Davidson and commercial director Gareth Crichton were in Shetland yesterday for a number of meetings with industry representatives, but also to brief the local authority on the company's plans for the next few years.

They told a meeting of the council's environment and transport forum they were looking into a number of ways to re-organise manning patterns on board the vessels, which could result in some of the duties being transferred from crew to land based staff.

There was also an ongoing re-allocation of jobs, Mr Crichton said, which would see the closure of the á la carte restaurant during winter months and the service moved to a dedicated corner in the main restaurant.

They said this measure would make economic sense during the winter season when very few people used the á la carte service.

Mr Davidson added that the change would not lead to an erosion of standards and was not the thin edge of the wedge, as suggested by council transport spokesman Gordon Mitchell.

Assurances were given that the onboard reorganisation and reduction in crew would free up much needed additional cabins.

Mr Crichton said the review was part of the service contract the company had with the Scottish Executive. "We are looking for a double benefit. Because it focuses on the customers we can provide services that generate additional revenues," he said.

Mr Davidson added that the service review had no time limit and any job losses would not be through redundancies "at the moment".

NorthLink is also in the process of finalising plans to build further cabin space during the next dry docking period in spring next year.

Mr Davidson said he was unable to confirm whether the project was definitely going ahead as "a business case" had still to be made to the NorthLink board as well as to its bank. But he said that the cost for new cabins would not be met by the public purse.

"The cabin project is well through. We are not there in terms that we can make an announcement about it, but I am very optimistic that we can do the project. We have still to wait until the last dots come into the row."

They also told the meeting that the first prototypes of the new livestock transport container would arrive for tests in Shetland and Orkney in January next year.

Mr Davidson said: "The prototypes will arrive for testing and we will have them here in Shetland and in Orkney. The vets will look at them, and they will be on the road with sheep and cattle in them.

"Once the design is finalised we than go and do a production run of them with the aim to have them for use in September 07."

They added that although NorthLink's passenger numbers were still rising, the strong growth of the first few years could not be repeated.

And they expressed concern about how the new Air Discount Scheme would effect their business. Mr Crichton said: "ADS will have an impact over the next five to six years."

NorthLink Ferries Ltd, a company owned by CalMac, took over the contract to provide the lifeline ferry service for the northern isles from the previous NorthLink company in summer this year.

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