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by Louise Wilson
28 March 2022
First Minister denies ferry contracts fast-tracked for political gain

Dave Johnston / Alamy Stock Photo

First Minister denies ferry contracts fast-tracked for political gain

Nicola Sturgeon has denied a claim made by a former shipyard boss that the decision to award the now delayed and overbudget ferry contract was rushed through without the usual safeguards for political reasons.

Billionaire tycoon Jim McColl told the Sunday Times that CMAL, the procurement agency, was under pressure by the government to tender the contract quickly so the award could be announced at an SNP conference.

But Sturgeon said on Monday morning, in an interview with LBC, that this was “absolutely, flatly, not the case”.

The First Minister insisted there was “nothing untoward” about the procurement process for the ferries, adding the issue was purely around construction.

An Audit Scotland report last week said there had been “multiple failings” which have prevented two new ferries for the Clyde and Hebrides routes being delivered on time and on budget.

In particular, it criticised a “lack of transparent decision-making” after CMAL officials warned ministers against continuing with the award after it became clear the contractor, FMEL, could not provide a refund guarantee.

The vessels are now expected to cost £240m (2.5 times more than the original price tag) and will be five years late.

Sturgeon said: “The government has taken decisions that at all times were about protecting jobs in shipbuilding and protecting the future of commercial shipbuilding on the Clyde.

“The issue is around the construction of the ferries – and of course until the end of 2019, the yard was in private ownership – the construction of the ferries has not been satisfactory and I don’t shy away from saying that.”

McColl took over the Port Glasgow shipyard in 2014 and FMEL were announced as the preferred bidder for the construction of the vessels in August 2015.

Former transport minister Derek Mackay announced the contract in the SNP’s conference in October that year.

McColl told the Sunday Times: “The audit report has revealed we were given the contract for political purposes. Everything was about the optics and timing the announcements for political gain.”

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