The SNP’s controversial plan to send Ukrainian refugees to live on cruise ships is set to cost taxpayers up to £100 million, it has emerged.
Details of the astronomical cost, which were revealed on Friday came shortly after it was confirmed that a second ship has been secured, which will be docked on the Clyde, in a bid to ease a severe accommodation crisis.
Nicola Sturgeon pushed the UK Government to allow Scotland to take in an “uncapped” number of victims of Russia’s invasion, and suggested UK ministers lacked humanity by failing to do enough to help refugees.
However, her “super sponsor” scheme has descended into chaos as there is not enough safe housing for them to be sent to.
So far, around 10,000 Ukrainians have arrived in Scotland through the super sponsor route.
However, visas were approved for a further 20,000 before the scheme was axed last month, meaning they still have the right to come to the country.
Risk being placed in ‘emergency accommodation’
Neil Gray, the SNP minister with responsibility for refugees, admitted on Friday that the government is “getting very close” to running out of temporary accommodation, particularly in the central belt.
Despite repeatedly pledging to offer a “warm Scottish welcome” to Ukrainians, it also emerged on Friday that those with permission to come to Scotland are being urged to find their own housing or told they risk being placed in “emergency accommodation”.
Ukrainians are already living in a cruise ship docked in Leith, the MS Victoria, which includes windowless rooms which at capacity would be more cramped than prison cells. The Scottish government has insisted the ship is popular with those living on it.
A second vessel, the MS Ambition, will be docked on the Clyde, and will provide accommodation for up to 1,750 people from next month in 714 cabins.
They are being provided through a contract with the firm Corporate Travel Management. Under the terms of the deal, which also includes sourcing hotel accommodation, the maximum value is set at £100 million.
“While we must do all we can to support the Ukrainian refugees bravely fleeing their war-torn homeland, these costs are eye-watering,” Miles Briggs, the Scottish Tory MSP, said.
“They are typical of the SNP’s record to allow costs to grow after initially boasting about projects they are in charge of.
“At the heart of their failures are Ukrainian refugees who have been left in limbo or have been housed in these cramped cruise ships.
“The SNP look to have spent a lot on a contract, without delivering what they promised to those seeking to settle in Scotland.”
The Scottish government had previously refused to say how much it was spending on its cruise ship plan, only saying that the sum was comparable to renting out hotel rooms.
Mr Gray said on Friday, in an update to MSPs, that the ship in Edinburgh is already providing accommodation to 1,000 Ukrainians, with several hundred believed to be arriving in Scotland every week.
He added: “We are getting very close to capacity for the temporary accommodation currently available, particularly across the Central Belt.
“We do not want people having to stay in temporary accommodation for any longer than is necessary. We are therefore putting every effort into helping people find longer-term accommodation in communities across Scotland.”
A short-term solution only
Scottish government officials have also discussed issuing a formal plea to the British Army for help bailing them out of the crisis.
Refugees rights activists have warned that sending vulnerable people to live on cruise ships should be seen as only an emergency short-term solution, warning using them as long-term accommodation could harm their chances of integrating into society.
However, the MS Ambition, like the MS Victoria, has been hired for six months, suggesting they will still be needed next year.
Eurovision venue could be next to ship
It has emerged a major celebration of Ukraine could be staged in Glasgow, after the city had made the shortlist to stage the next Eurovision song contest.
The event, which is only taking place in the UK because Ukraine cannot host it, would be staged at the SECC or OVO Hydro venues on the banks of the Clyde, where the MS Ambition will also be docked.
Ian Murray, the Shadow Scottish Secretary, said that while a “Eurovision party” was taking place, victims of the conflict could be living nearby on “cramped conditions on a cruise ship” due to the SNP’s mishandling of its scheme.
“These families have endured unimaginable hardship and are being let down by the Scottish government,” he said.
“The Scottish government’s resettlement scheme is in utter chaos - refugees from Ukraine deserve so much more than this shambles. Nicola Sturgeon must urgently fix this mess.”
A spokesman for the Scottish government said: “The Scottish government has chartered the MS Ambition for six months through CTM, its travel-related services provider, under the same contract used to procure MS Victoria I.
“Nearly 12,000 displaced people from Ukraine with a Scottish sponsor have now arrived – 15.5 per cent of all UK arrivals.”