The Scottish Government has announced that details of the next contract for the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services will be unveiled early next year, ahead of the start of the formal tendering process in the autumn of 2016.
It is expected that ministers will retain all the routes in the one package, preventing the so-called “cherry-picking” of the more profitable ones.
The contract, currently operated by CalMac Ferries Limited, will run for six years.
A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “A tendering team has begun the preliminary procurement processes leading to the provision of Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services from October 2016.
“The team is now making the necessary arrangements in preparation for the formal publication of a contract notice in early 2015 to announce the start of the selection stage of the procurement process.”