Forbes wants ferries completed and review held
Finance Secretary Kate Forbes today admitted that the continued delays and rising costs surrounding the CalMac ferries was “entirely unacceptable” and insisted that construction is completed.
Ms Forbes did not commit the government to a public inquiry, as demanded by the Scottish Tories, but indicated that there could be a “formal review” as suggested in last week’s report by Audit Scotland.
“My job is to get those vessels completed,” said Ms Forbes, responding in an interview to the latest claims that the government ignored the advice of the operator and awarded the ferries contract to Ferguson Marine for political, rather than commercial gain.
She also disputed former Ferguson Martine owner Jim McColl’s claim that the cost for the two ferries could top £400 million. “Jim McColl may say a lot of things,” she said. “I prefer to base my analysis and my forecast on the facts.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon later said in a separate radio interview: “The procurement of the ferries, the awarding of that contract, was done in line with normal procurement processes, with proper due diligence.
“Of course, Jim McColl signed that contract and it was his company that then became responsible for constructing the vessels.”
Responding to Ms Forbes’ comments, Scottish Conservative Shadow Transport Minister, Graham Simpson said: “The SNP can’t seem to decide who’s to blame. From one day to the next, their story is changing. Now it seems to be all Derek Mackay’s fault again. This is becoming a farce.”
He said it was “truly cringeworthy to hear Kate Forbes try to dodge responsibility and claim that the problem with the ferries was only the construction, and nothing to do with the government contracts that arranged the construction.
“She seems to be suggesting there were no flaws in a procurement process that has so far cost Scottish taxpayers £250 million while failing to deliver any ferries.
“This is the worst political spin the SNP have come out with in years.
“Kate Forbes couldn’t even say how much these disastrous mistakes will ultimately cost taxpayers. She couldn’t rule out the costs escalating further by tens of millions more.”
Nicola Sturgeon is now under further pressure to explain her role in the saga after Jim McColl, the former Ferguson yard owner, claimed ministers rushed through the order in 2015 without proper safeguards to maximise publicity ahead of Ms Sturgeon’s first party conference as leader.
He told The Sunday Times that Ms Sturgeon had misled the Scottish Parliament last week when she claimed the contracts were signed off by former Finance Secretary Derek Mackay.
Mr McColl said he was sure the decision “to overrule CMAL’s advice was made by the First Minister along with Derek Mackay”.
The former economic adviser to the SNP government said that ministers acted in haste and against the advice of ferry company Caledonian Marine Assets Limited (CMAL), so the contract could be announced at the autumn conference in 2015.
He said the contracts were given “for political purposes” and “everything was about the optics and timing the announcements for political gain”.
A report by Audit Scotland concluded last week that the bill for the vessels was now more than double their original price.
Scottish Labour’s transport spokesperson Neil Bibby called for Ms Sturgeon and Mr Mackay to be brought before the Public Audit Committee, insisting “the public deserve answers”.