Council chiefs have launched a £700,000 bid to reverse the fortunes of troubled Perth harbour.
The once-thriving port has been left facing an uncertain future after a dramatic slump in visiting vessels.
Perth and Kinross Council ordered a review after a study revealed the number of ships calling at the city had plummeted from about 300 a decade ago, to just 20.
Now the local authority has launched a search for new harbour operators.
Companies are being invited to submit tenders for a five-year contract worth £700,000.
The council is also committed to £870,000 of dredging work, which is due to begin this year.
Conservative councillor Chris Ahern, chair of the harbour board, said: “Perth and Kinross Council is tendering for a marine operations company to take over management and commercial operations for Perth Harbour for an initial period of 60 months.
“This contract will allow the council to ensure that harbour operations continue to contribute to the successful delivery of Perth Harbour Business Plan, raising profile and sales through marketing and promotion activities including working closely with council’s investment team and estates and commercial investment team.”
He said: “I am pleased to see this project moving forward and hope that it will be a positive milestone for the future of Perth Harbour.”
But the council has been criticised for offering the work to a third party.
Ross Howie, director of Calport shipping company, said: “We are pleased to see that the council, as owners, are dealing with their duty of care issues, but equally we are concerned that they are out-sourcing this rather than taking steps to engage a full-time harbour master, with the necessary dynamism and experience to drive the harbour forward.”
He said: “The council has made a commitment to further invest in dredging activities which will greatly enhance the future economic outlook, therefore it is important that they have the appropriate boots on the ground.”
Mr Howie said that, while the contract could satisfy the council’s statutory obligations, “it will be unlikely to add real impetus to the future of this major local infrastructure asset.”
Mr Howie added: “The council members made a commitment to improve the harbour therefore, like any good business, it should be driven locally by someone with the appropriate talent and commitment required.”
In the last year, Calport has invested nearly £500,000 to ensure its storage and handling facilities are ready to cope with the demands of the dredging process.
“We have put our trust in the council to see through their end of the deal,” said Mr Howie.
A 2016 business plan for the port proposed that £954,000 of investment — including dredging — would see the harbour break even by 2021.
However, experts warned at the end of last year that if the business plan wasn’t revised, the harbour would be unlikely to recover cotsts before 2034, if at all.
The harbour was recently dealt a blow when animal feed giant EWOS Ltd moved its business to Grangemouth.
Statistics released by the Department of Transport showed that freight traffic across the UK had considerably declined in the last 10 years.
A consequence of reduced ship movements is an increase in consolidated cargoes transported by larger ships, leading to a drop in the number of small and medium vessels that Perth harbour can attract.