As an island nation, Scotland relies pretty heavily on ferry service. But as it stands, Scotland’s network of ferry providers is extraordinarily complex: One provider, Caledonian MacBrayne, oversees at least 20 routes between the inner and outer Hebrides and on the Firth of Clyde; at least six other private companies operate routes around the rest of the island. To streamline things, the Scottish government plans to buy up all of the country’s private ferry services, nationalizing them and potentially running them all in-house.
This plan would replace the current piecemeal system, in which the government requests bids for individual route contracts. Instead of working with private operators to negotiate these separate contracts, the government will just take over all operations. In addition to drastically simplifying the system, the plan would also cut costs: A recent contract battle for the $1.25 billion Hebridean islands route (the large group of island off Scotland’s northwestern coast) cost the government $1.25 million in tendering fees alone.
Acting on advice from the European Commission, Scotland will stop signing over routes to private operators, something that, according to The Herald, has resulted in job losses and service cuts and has been criticized by Scottish Labor. Instead, it will use a legal exception (called the Teckal Exemption) to award contracts to its own in-house operator. In this case, it will run the services in partnership with the RMT, the British transport-workers’ union. Over the next nine months, the European Commission will review Scotland’s proposal; if it’s approved, the routes will switch to an in-house operation.
The strategy makes sense for Scotland, where many routes service few people and turn little profit. In such cases, it’s difficult to see why these services should be privatized. The whole point of a nationalized transit service is to offer a service to as many people ad possible–not to make as much money as possible. And when you’re living on an island with no other way to get off, it’s important that the transit service is overseen by public, not private, interests.