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by Louise Wilson
26 May 2022
Derek Mackay ‘entirely’ responsible for ferry contract, government official says

Derek Mackay ‘entirely’ responsible for ferry contract, government official says

Derek Mackay had the final say on the award of the ferry procurement contract to the Ferguson Marine shipyard, a Scottish Government official has said.

MSPs were told that while John Swinney will have had to agree the budget, as finance secretary at the time, he had no role in signing off the contract.

Holyrood’s Public Audit Committee was continuing its inquiry into the delayed and over-budget ferries, taking evidence from government and Transport Scotland officials on Thursday morning.

Asked about who signed off the decision to proceed with Ferguson Marine despite the builder being unable to provide the usual safeguards for infrastructure projects, interim director-general for net zero Roy Brannen confirmed the decision was “entirely” for the transport minister – which as the time was Mackay.

Brannen said: “It’s entirely within their portfolio and that was a decision entirely for the minister, then that would be for the minister.”

Asked whether the deputy first minister had any responsibility for the decision, Brannen replied: “No. The cabinet secretary for finance would agree the budget, which he did, but he doesn’t have a role in signing off. The decision to sign off on CMAL awarding the contract rested with the minister for transport at the time.”

He also confirmed that “no written authority was sought” by the accountable officer, a civil servant, from the minister regarding the decision to waive refund guarantees.

Audit Scotland had previously criticised the Scottish Government for failing to properly record the ministerial decision on the waiver, as they would expect written authority to have been obtained.

But Brannan said the Scottish Public Finance Manual set out that the accountable officer must only obtain such authority if he believed a decision was inconsistent with “proper performance of their functions”.

Asked about CMAL’s decision to sign the contract despite the body raising concerns about the lack of a full refund guarantee with ministers, Brannan said the CMAL board were “comfortable” with the mitigations put in place.

He said: “At the initial stage, the no refund guarantee was too far adrift from where they needed to be. At the point where it had gone up to ministers, CMAL had managed to negotiate a position where they have both a refund guarantee for 25 per cent and a final payment of 25 per, so reduced the risk. That risk, in their view, was manageable.”

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