Ferry fiasco vessels delayed again while Scots ministers refuse to commit to police probe on 'rigged' contract

Ferry fiasco vessels delayed again while ministers refuse to commit to police probe over 'rigged' contract
Ferry fiasco vessels delayed again while ministers refuse to commit to police probe over 'rigged' contract

TWO ferries at the centre of Scotland's ferry fiasco will not come into service till 2024, it has emerged.

Details of the further delays has come as ministers refused to commit to a police probe into suggestions the process of awarding the disastrous £97m Scottish ferries contract may have been rigged.

Calls were further made on Tuesday and Wednesday amid allegations that the ferry fiasco contract to Jim McColl-owned Ferguson Marine was rigged.

Now a letter from Ferguson Marine's chief executive David Tydeman reveals that plans to have the two lifeline vessels in place next year have had to be pushed back.

Issues with building the ferries mean that Glen Sannox was originally not to see service till between March and May 2023 at the earliest, while Hull 802 was not due to set sail till between October and December 2023.

Now Mr Tydeman has said that moving resources to deal with issues with Glen Sannox means that a handover of Hull 802 is not now planned until the first three months of 2024.

He also said in the update to the Scottish Parliament’s net zero, energy and transport committee that there was a “one to two month worst case slippage in final handover” of Glen Sannox.

He said: "The increase in work scope on [Glen Sannox] identified over the past three months has diverted resources from 80s which has put pressure on the delivery date for 801..."

Highlands and Islands MSP, Edward Mountain MSP said: “The latest update from Ferguson Marine confirms my suspicions that the delivery of vessel 802 is still impacted by problems and delays.

“These are not the fault of the new management of the yard though. I support the progress David Tydeman is making and he is not to blame for the delayed delivery of 802, the Scottish Government is.

“They presided over the catastrophic failures which led to the nationalisation of the yard and the significant errors which continued under Tim Hair’s management.”

Deputy First Minister John Swinney has said ministers were "not aware of any impropriety in the procurement process" while saying allegations will be looked into by public finance watchdog Audit Scotland.

He added today: "I accept my share of collective responsibility for the fact that these vessels have been delivered on time and on budget. And I deeply regret that,  I regret that for the impact on the reputation of Ferguson's I regret it for the impact it's had on islanders."

Transport minister Jenny Gilruth in answering calls for a police inquiry and a public inquiry off the back of further allegations that Ferguson Marine was given preferential treatment.

But Ms Gilruth has said it is "not the time" to prejudge inquiries being made by the Audit Scotland.

State-controlled ferry owners Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL) has denied allegations that it favoured a particular bidder.

While saying allegations made by the BBC Disclosure programme were "serious and concerning" it said that internal searches have "no evidence in our files to support" them, although it said that the claims related to events over seven years ago and that the participants were no longer employed by CMAL.

The vessels at the centre of  Scotland's ferry-building scandal remain at the Inverclyde Ferguson yard, was originally due to  completed next year – over five years later than planned - while costs have rose by at least two-and-a-half times from £97m to £250m.

The BBC programme claimed that CMAL obtained a 424-page document from a design consultant setting out state-controlled ferry operator CalMac's technical requirements, while other bidders had to rely on a more limited 125-page specification. But CMAL say this was not provided by them and that it seemed to be accepted that this was provided by an independent consultancy.

There were further claims that the shipyard under tycoon Jim McColl was allowed to change the design during the tendering process, making its pitch almost £10m cheaper. On the alleged change of bid, CMAL says that two bidders sought clarification which is a "normal step".

It was further alleged that there was a confidential meeting between the yard and CMAL – a courtesy not extended to other bidders in the process. But CMAL says that one face to face meeting was held with Ferguson and other bidders participated in "similar" technical clarification engagement digitally given their non-UK locations.

It also reiterated past revelations that CMAL may have broken its own rules by allowing Ferguson to go ahead with its bid despite being unable to provide evidence of a builders refund guarantee (BRG), a mandatory financial safeguard.

In a debate on the ferries debacle secured by the Scottish Conservatives, whose shadow transport minister Graham Simpson said: "We need a public inquiry and a police investigation to get to the bottom of it.

"If people in this government knew how to behave properly, heads would roll. Derek Mackay has gone, so far. Nobody has taken the rap. They never do. But remember what the First Minister said the buck stops with me. So let's see if that's true."

Ms Gilruth said Audit Scotland was looking into the affair in more detail and added: "I don't think at this time, it would be appropriate for me to prejudge the outcome of his further deliberations."

The Herald revealed in May that Ferguson Marine failed to fulfil mandatory requirements to qualify as the ferry fiasco contract bidder raising fresh questions about the legality of the procurement process.

CMAL has previously stated that issues over the provision of the BRG was not an issue until after Ferguson was named as preferred bidder in August, 2015. Mr McColl has denied this and said he bid for the £250m ferry scandal contract after receiving written guidance from transport minister Derek Mackay that refund guarantees were not mandatory to win building work.

Evidence showed that the tycoon's shipyard firm which was favoured by the SNP government could not give a commitment to provide a mandatory builder's refund as required and was unable to provide other crucial financial details including records of past achievements.

Particular focus has fallen on the failure of Ferguson to offer a BRG, which would have protected public money once construction ran into problems - which it did.

The Ferguson shipyard in Port Glasgow was effectively nationalised by the Scottish government in August, 2019.

Ministers will now operate the yard under a management agreement with administrators, which will see the Scottish government buy the facility if no private buyer is found within four weeks.

It came after Ferguson was involved in a dispute with CMAL over the construction of the two ferries.