Sturgeon denies ferries deal was ‘jobs for the boys’
Nicola Sturgeon today categorically denied claims that there was anything untoward in the awarding of a contract for two ferries to Ferguson Marine on the Clyde.
The First Minister was asked during a parliamentary hearing whether the SNP government’s relationship with former adviser and Ferguson owner Jim McColl meant the contract decision was a case of “jobs for the boys”.
She responded by saying there was “absolutely, categorically” nothing untoward in the procurement process.
Ms Sturgeon was answering questions from MSPs on the public audit committee investigating delays and overspending on two ferries for the government-owned procurement agency CalMac. The work is five years behind schedule and could end up costing the public purse more than three times the original £97m price.
The First Minister told the committee: “I am accountable and responsible for everything that happens in the Scottish government’s name”.
She said the fiasco was a matter of “considerable regret”, but she did not offer a direct apology for the delays and overspend.
The contract was awarded in 2015 to the Ferguson Marine Engineering shipyard in Port Glasgow, a year after it had been rescued from administration by Jim McColl, a pro-independence businessman who sat on the first minister’s council of economic advisers.
Conservative MSP Sharon Dowey asked if the award to a firm owned by Mr McColl was a case of “jobs for the boys”.
Ms Sturgeon resplied: “If you are saying was there anything untoward in this procurement process in order to somehow inappropriately steer this contract towards FMEL, then absolutely, categorically not.”
She said the work had been placed a Scottish company which would secure Scottish jobs and that the award was made solely on the assessment of the bids by government owned ferry agency CMAL.
Responding to claims in a recent TV documentary that Ferguson Marine had received preferential treatment and had been given access to information not available to other bidders, she said she not aware of any impropriety.
The First Minister said she would look into publishing more documentation including a record of a meeting with Jim McColl in May 2017 at which he raised concerns about the way the project was progressing and the role of the government ferries agency CMAL.
At the opening of the session she said: “I think it’s important to say at the outset that I am acutely aware that the delay in vessels 801 and 802 is having a very significant impact on island communities. That is a matter of considerable regret.
“And I absolutely recognise the decisions around the procurement of these vessels and the progress – or lack of progress – on these vessels since and the Scottish Government’s broader support for Ferguson’s shipyards are areas of very significant interest and concern.
“The issues here are obviously complex and they span a period of several years.
“I would take the opportunity to record my thanks to Audit Scotland for the work that it did in preparing the report that has of course led to the committee’s inquiry.
“That has been, I think, an important part of this scrutiny process.
“And to be clear, the Scottish government accepts all of the recommendations in the Audit Scotland report.
“And of course, we also accept unreservedly that the outcome in relation to these vessels is not what anyone, including the Scottish Government would have expected at the point of contract award.
“It is, of course inevitable, and I think it is understandable that decisions taken at different points – contract award and thereafter – are now seen through the prism of what has developed since. I understand that.
“However, in seeking to make judgments or to set out the basis of decisions taken, it is important to consider what was before ministers at particular points, and I’ll seek to provide as much insight into that as I can.
“Obviously, I’m happy to address concerns around the announcement of Ferguson’s as the preferred bidder, the subsequent award of the contracts the issues around the builders refund guarantee, milestone payments, dispute resolution process, also happy to address issues around the loan payments made by the Scottish Government and the progress of the vessels since the yard came into public ownership
“Obviously, this is still a live project -regrettably so – and the Scottish Government remains absolutely committed to delivering both ferries and supporting island communities that rely so heavily on vessels of this tape on a daily basis.”