John Swinney has insisted there was “no political motive” behind the awarding of a contact to build two ferries to Ferguson Marine.
The firm was awarded the contract in 2015, but seven years on, the vessels have still not been delivered, with the project also running significantly overbudget.
On Thursday, the issue was raised at First Minister’s Questions by Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross.
Deputy first minister Swinney answered questions from MSPs in place of Nicola Sturgeon at Holyrood, as the SNP leader recovers from Covid-19.
Ross has criticised the Scottish Government for a lack of transparency over the awarding of the contract.
However, Swinney said that the Government was “determined to defend” its record in protecting jobs at the yard.
And he rejected suggestions that there had been a lack of scrutiny on the issue.
“This has been an issue which has been looked at by a parliamentary committee, it’s been looked at by Audit Scotland, it’s been looked at again by another parliamentary committee, it’s been subject to a range of questions here at question time,” said Swinney.
“And what I would say to Douglas Ross is when he looks at all of the papers, what this contract arrangement demonstrates is that this government was taking actions to deliver ferries for island communities that were required.
“And we were taking decisions to protect employment on the lower Clyde.
“That is a record this government is determined to defend.”
Ross pressed Swinney over why the contract was awarded to Ferguson Marine, as he claimed that the SNP wanted the “political praise” for keeping the yard open.
“Well, you have to be pretty determined to defend a record that hasn’t built these ferries, that has left islanders without the ferries,” the Scottish Conservative leader told the deputy first minister.
“So why did the SNP really sign off this deal? It wasn’t to save jobs because we know that jobs were safe.
“It wasn’t the cheapest deal for taxpayers, it was actually the most expensive.
“It wasn’t the most secure contract, it was the most risky. It wasn’t backed by experts.
“They warned against it, they told the deputy first minister and others, but against overwhelming evidence, John Swinney signed off the deal anyway.
“It seems obvious to everyone what happened here. The SNP wanted the political praise for keeping the yard open ahead of an election so they ignored all of the alarm bells.
“It looks an awful lot like the SNP made a dodgy deal and now they’re trying to cover it up.”
Ross added: “Can he really tell the public that there was no political motive behind the award of this contract?”
Swinney dismissed claims by Ross that jobs at the yard were not at risk.
“There was no political motive behind this contact,” Swinney told the Scottish Parliament.
“The objective of the Government was to ensure that ferries that were required are built and that is what we are concentrating on achieving.
“And we are also determined to ensure that the employment in the lower Clyde was supported with contracts coming from the CalMac network.
“And for Mr Ross to say that somehow the yard could stay open without any contracts is just to deny physical reality about the way in which a yard would be run.”