NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

Serco officially takes over links to the Northern Isles

Northlink ferry
Image caption Serco replaces Northlink as operator as the Northern Isles route

Serco has officially taken over the running of the Northern Isles ferry routes.

The company replaces Northlink, which has been operating services between Aberdeen, Kirkwall and Lerwick and between Scrabster and Stromness for the past decade.

Serco will operate ferries on the routes for at least the next six years.

The international service firm won the £40m contract for the ferry routes in May.

Serco runs a variety of services across the world, from prisons to railways, schools and hospitals.

The firm has some experience operating ferry services, running the Woolwich Free Ferry in London.

Stormy waters

The Serco deal has not been without controversy.

It faced a legal challenge from a rival bidder and concerns over plans to reduce the frequency of the service across the Pentland Firth, as well as its off peak freight service.

There is also the threat of potential strike action from Northlink staff over working hours and pensions.

The RMT union is balloting its members on industrial action over concerns that pensions will be adversely affected by the Serco takeover.

The company said it would continue to work with employees to try to resolve concerns.

Meanwhile, another union, Nautilus, has written to Scottish Transport Minister Keith Brown looking for assurances on the pension issue.

The national secretary of Nautilus, Steve Doran, said members were still looking at their options and industrial action was only one of them.

He said: "We're still considering all avenues and exploring further action if necessary to protect members' conditions."

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