Ferry emails found but MSPs demand more answers
Scottish government officials have located correspondence showing that it was former Transport Minister Derek Mackay’s office which signed off a controversial ferries contract.
Ministers had previously said documents could not be located, raising suspicions of a deliberate attempt to conceal key information about the awarding of the work against the recommendation of their own procurement body, Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL).
An email chain has now been discovered in the account of a civil servant who no longer works for the government, though it has failed to satisfy opposition MSPs who are demanding more answers.
Jenny Gilruth, the transport minister, today told parliament that the emails show the contract was signed off by the office of Mr Mackay. One states: “The minister is content with the proposals and would like them to be moved on as quickly as possible.”
Ms Gilruth said: “It shows that the decision was rightly and properly taken by then transport minister Derek Mackay.”
However, the correspondence goes on to suggest that John Swinney, the deputy first minister, was the last senior minister to have contributed to the decision
The emails state that Mr Swinney confirmed “the absence of banana skins”, and that the contract was “clear to award”.
The contract to build the two ferries – the Glen Sannox and a second vessel known as Hull 802 – is already two-and-a-half times over its original budget and five years late.
CMAL had expressed concern about awarding the contract to the Ferguson Marine shipyard in Port Glasgow as it was unable to provide a full financial guarantee.
But ministers approved the deal rather than choosing to put it back out to tender. The yard was subsequently nationalised towards the end of 2019 amid a dispute over financing between CMAL and the yard’s then owner, the industrialist Jim McColl.
Audit Scotland, which highlighted the lack of documentation on the contract, said the release of the emails failed to address its concerns. “The email confirms that ministers approved the award of the FMEL (Ferguson Marine Engineering Ltd) contract,” a spokesman said.
“But there remains insufficient documentary evidence to explain why the decision was made to proceed with the contract, given the significant risks and concerns raised by CMAL.”
Graham Simpson, Scottish Conservatives transport spokesman, said: “What the email does not say is why the decision was taken and why the advice not to award the contract was ignored.
“We already know ministerial approval was given to award the contract to Ferguson Marine.
“The missing document we and the Scottish public are seeking is one that tells us why the SNP awarded it to Ferguson, given they were expressly advised not to.
“Simply revealing another email in support of the SNP’s desperate ‘Operation Blame Derek Mackay’ is not going to cut it.”
Willie Rennie, from the Liberal Democrats, suggested it was “very difficult” to believe the email had just been found given the record of the government on openness.
He said: “I simply do not believe that just before a debate we have a slam dunk argument from the minister.
“We are expected to believe a multi-million pound contract was given the go ahead on a one-line email. That does not fill me with confidence.”
Scottish Labour transport spokesperson Neil Bibby said: “At last the long-awaited ‘lost’ documents have been miraculously found – but these emails raise more questions than they answer.
“It is a disgrace that this document was not given to Audit Scotland originally. It begs the question what other information has been kept from them and the public.
“We still don’t have a shred of information about why this decision was made, and now these documents show that it was cleared by John Swinney. There are serious questions now for the Deputy First Minister.
“We can see here that multiple Ministers agreed to plough ahead with this dodgy deal, wasting millions of pounds of taxpayer cash on a contract that the experts warned them against – but we still don’t know why.
“The SNP are in a quagmire of spin and cover up here. We still need real answers for the taxpayers, islanders and shipyard workers who have all been so badly let down.”