CalMac Ferries Limited has been announced as the preferred tenderer for the next contract to operate the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services (CHFS) network by the First Minister.

CalMac’s bid makes almost 350 commitments to improve the service, aiming to help drive economic growth, improve customer service and make sure the company delivers value for money.

Proposals include:

£6 million investment in vessel and port improvements

The introduction of smart and integrated ticketing systems on key routes

Increase passenger/vehicle traffic by 10% and commercial traffic by 12% over the course of the contract

Providing more opportunities for local employment, including more apprenticeships

The creation of a new Director of Community and Stakeholder Engagement post and a Communities Board to better involve communities in investment and services decisions

Retaining its head office in Gourock and maintaining its status as a Living Wage employer

All existing routes and services will continue to operate as they do now

In addition to these headline proposals, CalMac has committed to retaining the CalMac pension scheme and a policy of no compulsory redundancies.

The tender price for the next contract is around £900 million for eight years from the 1 October 2016.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “I’m very pleased to announce CalMac Ferries Ltd as our preferred bidder for the next Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services contract.

“CalMac have a long and proud tradition of running the Clyde and Hebrides routes, and the company is woven into the fabric of the communities they serve.

“Their tender offers a good deal for those communities served by these vital transport links and ensures that we can maximise the opportunities to support and nurture our island economies.

“CalMac will better manage demand to drive an increase in traffic, as well as make the ferry services more attractive with the introduction of smart ticketing on key routes.

“The Scottish Government has made a clear commitment to our ferry services, investing a record £1 billion in port infrastructure, vessels and services since 2007.

“Scottish Ministers will retain control of all of important issues, such as fares and timetables, through the public service contract. Vessels and port infrastructure will also remain publicly owned as they are now.

“This new contract looks to make further improvements our ferry services, and I look forward to CalMac starting the new contract later this year.”

Alasdair Allan MSP commented: “I am absolutely delighted that Calmac has been awarded preferred bidder status for the contract to serve these islands. The clear preference of island communities was for Calmac to retain the contract and that is something I and many others conveyed to the Government.

“While none of us would have volunteered for this process to happen, it was vital that the Scottish Government complied with the law in order to safeguard the recover levels of investment that have been put into our ferry services.

"It is encouraging to see that a company with such a long record if serving the islands as Calmac has been able to make a robust bid and that the services will remain under public control. 

“I believe the new contract will lead to further improvements in the ferry services that are so crucial to the economy and quality of life on these islands and I look forward to working with Calmac in the months and years ahead.”

Angus MacNeil MP added: “I am absolutely delighted that the contract has been awarded to CalMac. Many of CalMac’s crews had told me of their nervousness about this process and what it could have meant for their jobs or terms and conditions so firstly for them this will be a big relief.

"Now CalMac must continue to serve the islands as best they can and improve services where possible.

"Earlier this week CalMac announced their plan to introduce online booking for foot passengers and e-ticketing which is a very positive step forward.”

Western Isles councillor Donald Crichton, who campaigned against Calmac privatisation, welcomed the news that the ferry operator had retained the contract for lifeline services.

Cllr Crichton said: "It is a relief for the islands and the west coast that Calmac have secured the contract for life line ferry services. The alternative, Serco, didn't bear thinking about. If they had won it would have ushered in years of cut backs, disruption to services through industrial action with employees fighting for their rights and jobs. The Scottish Government brought us to the brink of losing our life line services to a company with a reputation for ruthless asset stripping.  

"This should never have gone this far and should never happen again.  Ministers and their apologists were happy to parrot the civil service line and sit on their hands as the prospect of losing ferry services from public ownership loomed. They should hang their heads in shame that they allowed so much uncertainty to take place. 

"CalMac isn't perfect and a lot has to be done to improve services and the way it is run.  But that is best done with services being under public control were they can be scrutinised and held to account.    

"Congratulations to the RMT and those who campaigned for jobs and the security of our life line ferry services.   

"We can now keep calm and carry on."