The delayed and overbudget ferries being built to serve vital island routes could be worth a “fraction” of the £360 million taxpayers have spent on them when they are finally completed, MSPs have been told.
Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton raised concerns as wellbeing Economy Secretary Neil Gray updated Holyrood on work on the Glen Sannox and Glen Rosa.
The two vessels are being built by the Ferguson Marine yard in Port Glasgow for operator CalMac to bolster its ageing fleet, with the new ferries set to go into operation on routes off Scotland’s west coast.
But both the Glen Sannox and the Glen Rosa have been beset by issues which have seen multi-year delays and cost overruns which have put the price at £360 million, compared with the initial £97 million price tag when the contract was signed.
Mr Gray spoke of his “regret and incredible disappointment” that Ferguson Marine had announced further hold-ups and financial increases for two vessels.
Branding the project a “scandal which can be seen from space”, Mr Cole-Hamilton said the boss of Ferguson Marine had said the boats would be worth less than their building costs when completed.
Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “David Tydeman, the CEO of Ferguson Marine, believes the boats will be worth just £70 million apiece when they are finally finished. That’s a fraction of the £360 million of taxpayers’ money spent on their construction.”
He spoke out as Mr Gray told MSPs at Holyrood that the Glen Sannox is due to be delivered to CalMac at the end of March next year – and could go into service on the Arran route next summer “subject to the completion of the built and successful sea trials”.
Sister vessel the Glen Rosa meanwhile has a delivery date of the ned of May 2025, Mr Gray said, adding that a naming ceremony for the vessel in March next year would be a “milestone”.
Despite problems with the construction, Mr Gray insisted that the Scottish Government “remain committed to the delivery of both vessels by Ferguson Marine”.
He also stressed ministers wanted to “preserve the skilled jobs” at Ferguson Marine and “secure a sustainable future for the shipyard”.
The government is now working with Ferguson Marine after it submitted a business plan and request for investment, Mr Gray added, as he told MSPs the government’s “independent due diligence” on this initial request for cash had concluded it would not meet a “key legal requirement”.
Stressing that any awarding of cash would have to meet rules on subsidies, as well as being value for money, he said the government would “continue to examine options that would be compliant”.
Tory MSP Graham Simpson said in asking for “tens of millions of pounds” for the yard, Mr Tydeman had been clear the matter was “time critical”.
The Conservative added that shipyard workers at Ferguson Marine would have been “hoping for some good news about the future of the yard today”, but said they would have been left with a “sense of despair” after Mr Gray’s statement.
He told the Wellbeing Economy Secretary: “It is a mystery why he thinks the yard has a future without further investment.”
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