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by Louise Wilson
08 June 2023
Delayed ferries: Scottish Government actions ‘show serious disregard’ for transparency

The two ferries are overbudget and over five years late

Delayed ferries: Scottish Government actions ‘show serious disregard’ for transparency

The Scottish Government have been accused of secrecy and taking meetings “behind closed doors” by the convener of the parliament’s Public Audit Committee.

Leading a debate in the parliament on the committee’s recent report into the delayed and over budget ferries, Richard Leonard said the committee had been stymied by the government not providing documents and a cabinet secretary turning down invitations to appear before it.

He said: “These actions show a serious disregard for openness and transparency.

“They also demonstrate an unhealthy disrespect of the work of this parliament, which makes it all the more disappointing that the Scottish Government’s written response to the report that we are debating this afternoon was late, lacks any real substance or detail, and simply fails to address at all half of the conclusions and recommendations.”

The report, published in March, said taxpayers and island communities have been “badly let down” by the “significant failings” in the building of two new lifeline ferries.

Wellbeing Economy Secretary Neil Gray – who was standing in for former transport minister Kevin Stewart, who resigned this week – said ministers “regret” the “unacceptable delays” to the ferries being built.

Regarding the report, he said: “We have accepted many of the recommendations put forward to ensure that we continue to strengthen future vessel procurement."

“There are areas in the report where no conclusion is reached, leaving statements as observations. We did not respond to these directly where there is no recommendation attached,” he added.

Leonard also raised concerns about record-keeping generally within government, calling for a “wider review of government accountability and transparency to parliament”.

“This report is not a report simply about value for money… it is about whether we treat democracy as a right and not a privilege,” he added.

Gray said: “The Scottish Government is committed to transparency and has proactively published more than 200 documents on its website, and we have cooperated at every stage of the PAC inquiry as well as those previously undertaken by the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee and Audit Scotland.

“Throughout its work, the committee had the full participation of a range of senior officials across a number of departments, all of whom had full respect and regard for the parliamentary scrutiny led by the committee.”

Conservative Craig Hoy accused the SNP members of the committee of attempting to “whitewash” the committee’s report by voting against several of the conclusions.

He said: “In public and perpetually – and sometimes petulantly – in private, SNP committee members chose to dismiss the evidence which was clear and which was overwhelming.”

And Labour’s Neil Bibby agreed, saying this “reflects very badly” on those members.

Bibby also called for the findings of a KC inquiry into allegations that the procurement process was “rigged” in favour of the Ferguson Marine shipyard to be made public, “in full, with no redactions”.

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