Kate Forbes has hit back at businessman Jim McColl, insisting that it is “entirely wrong” to suggest that the awarding of a contract to build two CalMac ferries was rushed for political reasons.
McColl levelled the accusation at the SNP after a damning Audit Scotland report which set out a “multitude of failings” over the delivery of the two vessels.
The £97m ferries contract was awarded by Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL) to Ferguson Marine Engineering Limited (FMEL) in 2015.
But, it is now expected to cost at least £240m, with the CalMac ferries almost four years late.
McColl earlier suggested that the contract was rushed through by the SNP without safeguards because the party wanted good publicity at its conference which was held in Aberdeen in October, 2015.
And he accused the Scottish Government of conducting a “fabulous propaganda exercise”.
Last week, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon insisted that the “buck stops with me”, as she said that she is ultimately responsible for all decisions taken by her government.
However on Tuesday, finance secretary Forbes accused McColl of having a “clear interest in shifting blame” on others.
Forbes was asked about the awarding of the contracts at Holyrood by Scottish Labour’s Neil Bibby.
“It is entirely wrong to suggest the contract award was rushed for political reasons,” she said.
“Firstly, the timetable does not support that notion, given that Ferguson’s was publicly announced as the preferred bidder in August.
“Secondly, the contract was awarded in line with all of the procurement rules and practices in the normal way, as the Audit Scotland report confirms.
“And thirdly, contrary to what Jim McColl said this morning on the BBC, it was the chief executive of CMAL and Jim McColl himself who signed the contract.
“This is a man with a clear interest in shifting the blame on others when the root cause ultimately to the delays of these important vessels was the construction under FMEL.”
Bibby pressed Forbes over whether or not former transport minister Derek Mackay was solely responsible for signing off on the contracts.
He said: “Yesterday, the First Minister said she had no hesitation in answering any and all questions. I believe this Parliament must hear from the First Minister in detail this week.
“But in the First Minister’s absence, is Kate Forbes able to confirm whether the award of this contract, without a full refund guarantee, was discussed and agreed by the Cabinet?
“If so, were they made aware of CMAL’s concerns, or if not, is the Scottish Government’s position the decision to ignore CMAL was made by Derek Mackay and Derek Mackay alone?”
Forbes refused to be drawn over the position of Derek Mackay.
She responded: “There has been a debate on this subject, there has been a statement on this subject, I am answering questions on this subject and I have answered press queries on this subject.
“So in terms of scrutiny, I think the member will find that there has been significant scrutiny.”
Bibby added: “I think it’s evident that only the First Minister can clear up the questions about what has went wrong here and who was involved when.
“We need honesty and openness about this. We cannot afford secrecy and cover up because taxpayers, in the midst of a cost of living crisis, are paying for the cost of this government’s failure.”
Scottish Conservative transport spokesman Graham Simpson said MSPs at Holyrood heard “plenty of waffle”, but no clarity from the finance secretary.
He said: “Kate Forbes, like the First Minister before her, failed once again to answer a straightforward question that is fundamental to this whole scandal: Why did the Scottish Government ignore CMAL’s concerns and award the contract to Ferguson without insisting on a refund guarantee?
“We heard plenty of waffle and a clear attempt to pin the blame for this mess on Jim McColl – but still no clarity.
“The bottom line is the SNP Government played fast and loose with a huge amount of taxpayers’ cash by agreeing to a contract without basic financial safeguards.
“Until they have an explanation for that, the questions will keep coming.
“It’s clearer by the day that we need a full, independent inquiry to get to the bottom of this murky saga.”