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MSPs ask Derek Mackay if he is ferries ‘fall guy’

MSPs ask Derek Mackay if he is ferries ‘fall guy’

The SNP's former transport minister denied claims he was the "fall guy" in the ferries row as he gave evidence to MSPs.

Derek Mackay returned to the Scottish Parliament this morning to answer questions as a cross-panel committee investigates what led to the ferry deal which has become a major political row.

However, Mackay said the decision to award the contract was not politically motivated.

Ferguson Marine was awarded the contract to deliver vessels to serve Calmac's west coast routes. One, the Glen Sannox, is now running five years late and project costs have more than doubled to £250m.

Earlier this year Audit Scotland reported that the 2015 deal had been approved by ministers without the normal financial safeguards.

Today Mackay, who left government in February 2020 after it emerged that he had been sending messages to a 16-year-old boy, admitted "catastrophic failures" had been made, saying: "I take my share of responsibility. However, in doing so, I believe that at every stage and in every decision I acted with the best of intentions, with the interests of island communities, workers, Scottish shipbuilding and the communities that relied upon their success foremost in my mind. 

"As vessel construction entered difficulty, I set out the objectives to complete the vessels, safeguard the workforce and give the yard a future. These are objectives I do not regret."

Billionaire businessman Jim McColl saved the Port Glasgow yard from closure in 2014 and was once a member of the Scottish Government's business advisory council. However, he has criticised the Scottish Government over the handling of the contract.

The yard was nationalised in 2019 in a further bid to save jobs.

Mackay has been absent from Chamber debate about the matter since he stepped down from government. While he remained an MSP until the last election, he did not appear in the Scottish Parliament during those final months.

Today Conservative MSP Craig Hoy asked if he was being made the "fall guy" in "Operation Blame Derek Mackay".

Mackay said he would "take his share" of responsibility, stating: "I can answer for my decisions. And my involvement was as a proactive minister."

He went on: "According to the Auditor General and the previous REC committee in the previous parliament, there are multiple failings so I don't think it all rests on me. Other people have advised that clearly there are multiple failings here, but I'm taking my share of responsibility. I was the lead minister."

Asked by Tory MSP Sharon Dowey if the use of Fergusons was politically-driven or the timing of the announcement was rushed for the SNP conference, he said: "I don't think there was a political agenda and I don't think it was rushed at all. 

"I don't think there was any evidence it was rushed. It was a methodical approach to procurement.

"I recognise the failure of it but it was made with the best intentions. 

"I don't think it was a partisan decision, it was about trying to ensure we could get two vessels complete and built in Scotland."

David Middleton, former chief executive for Transport Scotland, also gave evidence. After teh session, committee convener Richard Leonard said: "Today brought clarity to some central issues the committee has taken evidence on. However there remain major differences in the versions of events stretching back to February 2015.

"We have today decided to invite the First Minister to give evidence at a future meeting to help us get to the bottom of what has gone badly wrong with the delivery of ferries 801 and 802 for the Clyde and Hebrides. We will also consider any further next steps necessary to be able to report to Parliament on our findings."

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