FM told to 'stop treating the public like fools' over ferries contract

Ministers have been urged to explain the decision-making behind the awarding of a contract for two ferries to Ferguson Marine.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told to ‘stop treating the public like fools’ over ferries contract STV News
The issue will be debated by MSPs at the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday.

Nicola Sturgeon must “stop treating the public like fools and finally come clean” over the contract given to Ferguson Marine to build two new ferries, according to the Scottish Conservatives.

The party has called on the First Minister to answer why expert advice was “ignored” in deciding to award the contract to the firm – with the ferries now significantly delayed and overbudget.

The yard was nationalised in 2019, with the Scottish Government defending their intervention by insisting that the move saved hundreds of jobs.

However, businessman Jim McColl accused Sturgeon of lying that 400 jobs would have been lost had ministers not stepped in at the time.

McColl said that there were 150 people employed at the time it was taken over and claimed that there was “no danger” of the yard going bust.

But, the SNP leader hit back at McColl and said that she would “not apologise” for decisions taken which allowed the last commercial shipbuilder on the Clyde to continue in business.

The Scottish Conservatives have continued to press the Government over their decision to award the contract to Ferguson Marine.

Concerns were also raised by the party over a missing document which set out the reasoning behind the decision.

A debate on the issue is to take place at the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday.

Speaking ahead of the debate, the Scottish Conservatives’ transport spokesman Graham Simpson called for ministers to verbally explain their reasoning behind the award.

“The SNP’s continued cover-up over their catastrophic contract award is only dragging out and deepening this scandal,” he said.

“The Government’s claims over the missing document – explaining why they overruled CMAL’s advice and gave the contract to Ferguson – don’t bear the slightest scrutiny.

“Whether no written record was ever kept or it has been destroyed, it appears they may well have broken the law.

“But in a sense the paperwork is a red herring. Ministers can simply tell us their reasoning.

“After all, it’s inconceivable that Nicola Sturgeon, John Swinney, Keith Brown and co can’t recall why they gave the contract to Ferguson – unless they’ve all developed selective amnesia.

“We’re not talking about a bog-standard rubber-stamping of a decision by officials; we’re talking about a huge government procurement programme in which ministers decided to expressly go against their experts’ recommendations.”

Simpson claimed that taxpayers are now picking up an “enormous tab for SNP incompetence”.

And he warned of the impact of the ferries fiasco upon island communities.

“Nicola Sturgeon claims she wants to be transparent and has nothing to hide. If so, she must answer a very simple question,” Simpson said.

“The reason all of this matters is because taxpayers are picking up an enormous tab for SNP incompetence, while our island communities are being appallingly let down by an ageing, sub-standard CalMac fleet as they wait for new ferries that are already five years late.

“These are lifeline services for islanders and we risk accelerating depopulation unless they improve radically.”

He added: “The First Minister must stop treating the public like fools and finally come clean.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “A thorough search has been conducted and all relevant information that we hold has been shared with Audit Scotland.

“As the First Minister has set out to parliament, there is extensive documentation available, including more than 200 documents proactively published online which record the decision making process and the mitigations proposed to safeguard public money.

“As the Auditor General has set out, it is not clear whether the document being discussed was ever created or whether, in reality, an important document was never prepared and that is why it cannot now be located.”