THE possibility of bringing back a pedestrian and vehicle ferry service between Gourock and Dunoon town centres is still up in the air — six months after a new contract was due to start.

The route is currently operated by CalMac offshoot Argyll Ferries, using the passenger-only Argyll Flyer and Ali Cat.

A policy review into ferry tendering policy was ordered by the Scottish Government in February.

Then Transport Minister Humza Yousaf said in July — a month after the new contract was due to start and run for 12 years — that his officials had held discussions with the European Commission and key stakeholders, and this had led to the conclusion that a contract could be awarded without going out to tender, so long as it complied with complex state aid rules.

He said: “We will publish a report on progress to date in the autumn, and aim to complete the full review process as soon as possible.

“It is the Scottish Government’s preference to make a direct award to an in-house provider, but it’s important that the outcome of this review is not pre-judged.”

Now he has told Parliament that the government will shortly publish “an interim report on the findings that are emerging from our on-going policy review of the future procurement of government-funded ferry services”.

The Minister said: “The report will outline the implications for each of our lifeline ferry services, including the Gourock to Dunoon town centre route.

“The government’s programme for Scotland 2017-18 stated that we would continue with a number of initiatives to further enhance and improve Scotland’s ferry services, including the support of the town centre to town centre Gourock to Dunoon service.

“We also committed to reviewing ferry services procurement policy, and subsequently putting in place arrangements for the long-term delivery of our supported services.”

Meanwhile, Mr Yousaf also said he would hold talks with CalMac about bringing back the MV Coruisk to the Gourock to Dunoon route over the winter to cope with bad weather which can stop the Argyll Ferries’ boats operating.

He said: “Over the winter months, dry docking and maintenance of the fleet is essential.”