Contract evidence

Ferries ‘now obsolete’ says former yard owner

Ferguson Marine: ‘would have survived without the ferries contract’

Two unfinished ferries being built on the Clyde are already obsolete because of the type of fuel that has been chosen for them, according to the former owner of the Ferguson Marine shipyard, Jim McColl.

He told MSPs that they would emit poisonous gases because Scottish government officials insisted they use liquefied natural gas. Mr McColl said it was “80% more toxic than diesel fumes”.

Addressing Holyrood’s public audit commission, he said: “So you are now completing two vessels that are obsolete.

“You’re going to be putting out poisonous gases between Brodick and Ardrossan and the other routes as well. These are not green vessels.”

In further criticism of how ministers handled the contract, he dismissed as “nonsense” claims by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that the government had to step in to save the yard and jobs of the workers.

He said the yard would be “flying high” without the contract because there were other orders available.

Jim McColl addressing the committee

Ferguson Marine was nationalised in 2019 amid a series of disputes over the project. Since then the price tag for the two ferries has more than doubled from £97m to £250 million and the vessels are five years late.

“I wish we hadn’t got it [the ferries contract], because we’d be flying high just now with a whole load of different orders, including the Type 31 destroyers working with Babcock,” said Mr McColl.

He took aim at the Scottish Government’s turnaround director Tim Hair for removing senior officials and changing specifications which he said had contributed to pushing the cost over budget.

Speaking after the session, Conservative transport spokesman Graham Simpson said: “Jim McColl’s testimony completely undermines the SNP’s sole defence for the entire ferries fiasco, namely that Ferguson Marine would have folded and hundreds of jobs would have been lost had they failed to award the yard the contract.

“He was adamant that this was not the case, and that he now wishes the yard had never landed the fateful Scottish Government contract because it would have prospered without it and, ultimately, been spared ‘catastrophic’ nationalisation.

“His evidence was a damning indictment of the SNP’s role in a scandal that has betrayed both our island communities and taxpayers.”

Public Audit Committee convener Richard Leonard said the next meeting on 30 June would be with the chief executive of CMAL, the procurement agency which ordered the ferries.

Written evidence is due from the former chief executive of Transport Scotland, David Middleton; the former director general for enterprise, environment and innovation at the Scottish Government, Graeme Dickson; and the former transport minister Derek Mackay.

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