Forbes denies government rushed ferry plans for party conference

An Audit Scotland report published last week said the contracts were given the go-ahead despite not having full refund guarantees.

Finance secretary Kate Forbes denies government rushed ferry plans for party conference Getty Images

Scotland’s finance secretary said she “fundamentally disagreed” with the assertion that the announcement of two botched ferries was rushed so it could be made at the SNP conference.

Jim McColl, the former boss of the Ferguson Marine shipyard awarded the ferry contract, told the Sunday Times the decision was made for “for political purposes” and “everything was about the optics and timing the announcements for political gain”.

An Audit Scotland report published last week said the contracts were given the go-ahead despite not having full refund guarantees.

Mr McColl, a former adviser to the Scottish Government and fervent supporter of Scottish independence in the 2014 referendum, said the decision to overrule concerns from the Government-owned ferry procurer Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL) was made by former finance secretary Derek Mackay and the First Minister.

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland on Monday, finance secretary Kate Forbes, who last week announced a further delay and increased cost for the two ferries, said: “I fundamentally disagree with that.

“If we’re serious about learning the lessons of this whole situation, we (should) base that analysis on facts – on the independent Audit Scotland report – and not the opinion of someone who has a vested interest in a Sunday newspaper.”

When asked, she did not expand on what “vested interest” Mr McColl may have.

Forbes went on to say the “timetable does not stack up”.

She said: “Ferguson was publicly announced as the preferred bidder in August 2015.

“I think the conference you’re referring to was some time in October. The election wasn’t until the following May and this whole process was months, if not years, in the making.”

Forbes also addressed the former Ferguson Marine owner’s assertion that the cost for the two ferries could top £400m.

“Jim McColl may say a lot of things,” she said. “I prefer to base my analysis and my forecast on the facts.

“The latest updated cost forecast is up to £206m. That takes into account a number of things. It takes into account new warranties, it takes into account the latest schedule, and it takes into account the cabling issue that I’ve already referred to.

“I have no idea what he has based that on, at all.”

Mr McColl claimed the Scottish Government would be better off making Hull 802 – the second ferry due to be delivered – watertight in its current form and selling it off before starting a new ferry entirely.

Forbes said that, if the Port Glasgow shipyard was not awarded the contract, it could have collapsed into administration.

“If we pulled the plug on that contract at that point, we wouldn’t have proceeded with those two vessels and the yard, of course, would probably have gone into administration,” she said on Good Morning Scotland.

The yard fell into administration in 2019 before being saved by the Scottish Government, before cost overruns and delays were revealed by then finance secretary Derek Mackay in December of that year.

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