Jim McColl has accused Nicola Sturgeon of lying over her claim that the Ferguson Marine shipyard would have closed without the contract for two new ferries.
It comes after the First Minister described McColl as having been “disingenuous” over the deal.
The botched construction of the vessels – which are overdue and overbudget – has been at the centre of a political row, with Sturgeon having expressed her ‘regret’ to island communities impacted.
An Audit Scotland report outlined a ‘multitude of failings’ in the project, with ‘significant operational failures’ being highlighted by the watchdog.
Speaking on the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme on Monday, Sturgeon claimed that McColl’s firm had either refused or failed to provide a full refund guarantee, which, she said, it had indicated it would.
However, McColl has insisted that his company “made it clear” that it could not offer such a guarantee as part of its proposal.
Sturgeon told the BBC: “I just think this is disingenuous in the extreme because the issue we are talking about here was Jim McColl’s company’s refusal, or failure, call it what you want, not to provide what they had initially said they would provide which was a full refund guarantee.
“Now, if Jim McColl is saying he wasn’t aware of that at the time, and wasn’t aware of the concerns that were expressed, then I just find that.. well, I find it a bit strange.”
Speaking on the same programme on Tuesday, McColl hit back at Sturgeon over her comments.
“Well, I found that quite surprising when I heard it yesterday morning because from the very beginning, we had been making the case, or Ferguson’s had been making the case, that they were not in a position to provide cash refund guarantees on this,” he said.
“When we were tendering for it, that was, you’re right, that was in the tender, we made it clear we couldn’t do that.
“We were told that we could put together an alternative, which we did, and we put a proposal on, I think it was the August 26, we submitted a proposal.
“Which was not a full cash fund guarantee, but it was a parent company guarantee and an insurance bond.”
McColl outlined evidence indicating that a full refund guarantee was not offered as part of the deal.
He said: “I have the documents in front of me that shows that we offered on the 26th a guarantee which was not a full refund guarantee.
“And we also on the 27th, from CMAL, were told that we had moved from the preferred tenderer to being a successful tenderer after submitting that.”
Asked why the builders refund guarantee was not offered, McColl said: “Because it’s a cash refund guarantee and we were very clear from the beginning that we can’t do that.
“It’s a facility that in other countries is supported by national investment banks and we don’t have such a facility in the UK or Scotland. So we’re not in a position to do it.
“And I would just like to say that we did have as early as February 2, a letter from the transport minister saying that; ‘Whilst CMAL’s board in line with standard industry practice has a preference for refund guarantees, it has on occasion taken alternative approaches to ensure that shipyards, including Ferguson under its previous owners, were not excluded from bidding for these government contracts’.
“This is on the February 2 on government headed paper from Derek Mackay.”
McColl previously stated that he believed the timing of the announcement around the contract award had been made for ‘political reasons’.
Sturgeon on Monday told Good Morning Scotland that; ‘had a different decision been taken, Fergusons would almost certainly have closed and the 400 jobs would have gone’.
McColl said: “That’s a lie and at the time, there were 150 employed, not 400.
“I think she was a bit rattled in the interview and she mixed it up with the statement that they make about saving the yard.”
McColl insisted that there was “no danger” of the yard going bust at the time the contract was awarded.
He said: “The yard had outstanding work. It was still working on the ferry, Catriona, which wasn’t launched until 2016, was delivered early and on budget.
“It also had additional construction work, fabrication work, so there was no danger of the yard going under at that time.
“That was a slip by the First Minister in the interview and it was about the constant, repeated statements she makes about 400 employees at the yard.”
It was put to McColl that in his last appearance on the programme, he said that he did not sign the contract to build the ferries.
However, documents later emerged which showed his signature.
McColl acknowledged that he had made an error in his previous remarks.
“I did sign it, that was a mistake,” McColl said.
“At the time, I wasn’t aware that I had until I checked up after I said it.
“It was signed by the CEO of the yard and I did counter-sign it.”
Scottish Conservative transport spokesman Graham Simpson said that the “scandal gets murkier by the day”.
“These are devastating claims by Jim McColl that completely undermine Nicola Sturgeon’s defence on the ferries fiasco,” said Simpson.
“The First Minister has been adamant that Ferguson had originally agreed to offer a full refund guarantee.
“But if Mr McColl has paperwork to the contrary – and unlike Nicola Sturgeon he seems able to keep hold of key documents – she has some serious explaining to do.
“Similarly, the First Minister’s only defence for her government’s reckless decision to award the contract to Ferguson Marine has been that it saved the jobs of 400 staff at the yard.
“But Mr McColl has driven a coach and horses through that claim by insisting that there were only 150 staff at the time and that the yard had enough work to remain viable even if it hadn’t been awarded the contract to build the two CalMac ferries.
“This scandal gets murkier by the day. It’s essential a full, independent inquiry is set up to get to the bottom of it.”