SNP MSPs in 'disgraceful' attack as Sturgeon criticised in ferry fiasco
THE SNP MSPs on the Holyrood committee that criticised Nicola Sturgeon over the CalMac ferries scandal have accused its Labour convenor of “embellishment” and “chasing headlines”.
The pair also claimed that others MSPs had pursued a "narrow political agenda" and rushed out the report ahead of Ms Sturgeon leaving her job as First Minister.
The Scottish Tories called it a "disgraceful" attack.
The Public Audit Committee today said Ms Sturgeon acted prematurely when she announced one firm as the preferred bidder on the disastrous ferry deal before it was finalised.
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The Committee’s report said Ms Sturgeon’s high-profile visit to the Ferguson Marine yard in Port Glasgow on 31 August 2015 probably weakened the negotiating hand of the state ferry procurement body CMAL.
Other bidders were stood down.
It meant CMAL had little choice but to complete a deal with Ferguson’s, despite misgivings about the lack of a refund guarantee to protect taxpayers in case the order went awry.
Six weeks after Ms Sturgeon’s visit and annoucement, CMAL formally ordered two CalMac ferries from the yard at a fixed price of £97million, with delivery due in 2018.
READ MORE: Report - Sturgeon added to ferry scandal by jumping gun over contract
However the deal went disastrously wrong, with arguments over money and design changes sending Ferguson’s broke, leading to its nationalisation in late 2019.
The ferries, known as hulls 801 and 802, are now due in 2023 and 2024 at a cost of £300m.
The Committee’s report, which built on previous damning findings by the Auditor General for Scotland, were largely cross-party.
However the most stinging criticism, particularly of Ms Sturgeon and other SNP ministers, was resisted by its SNP members, Colin Beattie and Willie Coffey.
They voted to water down or block multiple critical passages, which were passed by the votes of Labour convener Richard Leonard and Tories Craig Hoy and Sharon Dowey.
Mr Beattie and Mr Coffey today issued a statement complaining about the criticism by their party colleagues
A spokesperson for the pair said: “In nationalising the yard, Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP Scottish Government saved hundreds of Scottish jobs, created many more, and delivered a lifeline for the future of shipbuilding on the Clyde.
“The headlines chased by the committee convener significantly embellish the actual substance of the report, which offers very little in the way of new information.
“Despite six months of work [and more than 16 hours of evidence] through this inquiry, the Committee has largely failed in its core purpose - to determine how public money was spent and whether that represents value for money.
“Instead, opposition politicians chose to rush through the report before the First Minister stood down and pursued a narrow political agenda at the expense of workers at the yard who are committed to delivering these vessels.”
Tory MSP Graham Simpson said: “This is a disgraceful attack on the committee and its convenor.
"The SNP members were clearly desperate to try to spare the blushes of the First Minister.
“Instead they should be asking her to apologise for the failings clearly identified in the report.
“The SNP’s ferry scandal will be one of Nicola Sturgeon’s lasting legacies and as she sets sail into the sunset, it is our islanders who continue to be left without lifeline services.”
A spokesperson for the Public Audit Committee said: “The Convener has faithfully represented the Committee’s findings.
"The report of the Public Audit Committee issued today is an authoritative account of the Committee’s findings based on evidence uncovered after extensive scrutiny dating back to April 2022.
"The Committee considered and agreed the report over eight meetings and all members played a full part in its production and the drafting of its conclusions and recommendations.
"Where we weren’t able to reach consensus, the report is clear and transparent about the reasons for this.”