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by Joseph Anderson
11 May 2022
Government document reveals Derek Mackay signed off on ferries contract

Government document reveals Derek Mackay signed off on ferries contract

The Scottish Government has released documents revealing Derek Mackay signed off the controversial contract for two delayed and over-budget CalMac ferries.

Emails published today, which date from 2015, show that while Mackay signed off on the decision, it was ultimately approved by Deputy First Minister John Swinney.

The government has recently come under intense scrutiny for losing the documents pertaining to the decision to award the Ferguson Marine shipyard in Port Glasgow a contract for the two ferries. 

A recent report from Audit Scotland found there was “insufficient documentary evidence” to explain why the contract was given without a full refund guarantee.

The contract to build two ferries, destined to serve Scotland’s island communities, was awarded despite concerns raised by Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL), the state-owned ferry procurement company, after Scottish Ministers found there was “mitigation” for CMAL’s concerns.

The two ferries are set to cost taxpayers £240m, and will be delivered five years later than first envisaged, leading to calls from opposition parties for the government to reveal which Scottish minister was responsible.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her cabinet have maintained that disgraced former transport minister Mackay was ultimately responsible, and the government has now released emails showing civil servants discussing Mackay’s approval for the project.

An email from then-director of procurement, Ainslie McLaughlin, dated October 9th 2015, reads: “Just finished my call with DFM [Deputy First Minister John Swinney]. He now understands the background and that Mr McKay (sic) has cleared the proposal. So the way is clear to award.”

Current transport minister Jenny Gilruth revealed the document to the Scottish Parliament during a debate on ferries.

Gilruth said: “The email makes clear who approved the decision to award the contract to build vessels 801 and 802 to Ferguson’s shipyard.

“It shows that the decision was rightly and properly taken by then transport minister Derek Mackay.

“We said we would continue to look for the document and that is exactly what we have done. It was found because a copy of an email chain had been retained by someone in Scottish Government Finance because the then finance secretary was briefed on the decision.  By chance, a copy of that email chain – between two officials who left the government some years ago – includes the email from the transport minister’s private office and was located in someone’s electronic files.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat economy spokesperson Willie Rennie said called for a public inquiry into the ferries fiasco.

He said: “It's difficult to believe that the SNP happened to find this apparently critical document just before the debate on ferries. The document makes matters worse as it still doesn't explain why the decision was made to ignore CMAL.

“The transport minister's claim that it was only Derek Mackay that signed off the contract has almost immediately been undermined by another document that revealed that it was the Deputy First Minister that signed off the contract. 

“The need for a public inquiry is now urgent.”

Labour's transport spokesperson, Neil Bibby, said: “At last the long-awaited ‘lost’ documents have been miraculously found – but these emails raise more questions than they answer.

“It is a disgrace that this document was not given to Audit Scotland originally. It begs the question what other information has been kept from them and the public.

“We still don’t have a shred of information about why this decision was made, and now these documents show that it was cleared by John Swinney. There are serious questions now for the Deputy First Minister.

“We can see here that multiple ministers agreed to plough ahead with this dodgy deal, wasting millions of pounds of taxpayer cash on a contract that the experts warned them against – but we still don’t know why.

“The SNP are in a quagmire of spin and cover up here. We still need real answers for the taxpayers, islanders and shipyard workers who have all been so badly let down.”

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