Scottish Government knew of 'procurement risks' over ferry deal

The First Minister denied her deputy gave the final sign off for the controversial deal after the missing documents saga took another twist.

Scottish Government knew of ‘procurement risks’ over ferry deal before signing off on contract STV News
Nicola Sturgeon denied John Swinney knew about the botched deal.

The Scottish Government was warned of “significant procurement risks” surrounding the award of a ferry building contract to Ferguson Marine.

Ddocuments uncovered by the SNP, and then redacted, reveal the absence of a full refund guarantee could lead to a “high chance” of a successful legal challenge should the terms of the agreement to build two new ferries operating between the Scottish islands and the mainland make it to court.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also claimed the ‘missing’ email proved former transport minister Derek Mackay and not deputy John Swinney was the man responsible for signing off on the deal.

The fiasco came under vicious attack from Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross at a volatile First Minister’s Questions on Thursday afternoon.

Ross revealed simply copying and pasting the information from the document allowed the previously hidden details surrounding the deal in front of MSPs.

Opposition parties had previously called for the document to be published as the war of words over the fiasco escalated – with the ferries now significantly overdue and over budget.

Audit Scotland previously criticised the deal’s lack of a refund arrangement, citing it could render the contract “ineffective” should it come down to a legal reckoning.

It added: “The impact of a successful legal challenge could be high – in the worst case the contract could be declared ineffective – and a challenge could be brought at any time as the contract terms are not being made public.

“The risk of a challenge materialising depends on the likelihood of any of the 5 other shipyards receiving confidential information and on the appetite of those competitors for a challenge.”

Sturgeon maintained Swinney had been “briefed” on the issue but the final decision on the contract had already been taken by Mackay at that point.

She accused Ross of “desperation,” adding: “It is not unusual, really not unusual, for finance secretaries to be briefed on all sorts of decisions that involve the spending of money – it does not mean the finance secretary has actually taken the decision.”

However Mr Ross accused the deputy first minister of “ignoring banana skins” and challenged him to explain his decision to Holyrood.

“John Swinney couldn’t find a single banana skin, when they were absolutely littered around him,” he said.

“The most crucial document in this affair is still missing – the one that explains why John Swinney charged ahead against expert advice.”