SNP Islands minister Paul Wheelhouse defends Firth ferry fiasco.
By Rory Murphy
The Scottish Government has denied that the procurement process for two ferries was a “catastrophic failure” after the build was delayed and ran over-budget.
And turned a blind eye to the fact that it was disgraced former Finance Minister Derek Mackay, who was the SNP’s main player in the deal.
Islands minister Paul Wheelhouse made the claim as he responded to a review into what went wrong with the construction of the new CalMac vessels.
In a damning report last month, MSPs on Holyrood’s rural economy and connectivity committee said the procurement of the boats from the Ferguson Marine yard across the Clyde in Port Glasgow was “a catastrophic failure”.
Ferguson Marine was supposed to deliver two ferries to be used on CalMac’s west coast routes by 2018 at a cost of £97m.
But the vessels are not now expected to be completed till 2022 and 2023 respectively, with the cost having almost doubled to around £200 million.
The committee inquiry found that the procurement process was “not fit for purpose”.
In a letter to MSPs, Wheelhouse stressed that Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL), a Scottish Government-backed body, “directly procures” vessels for the CalMac fleet.
The Lord of the Isles sailing into Oban Harbour in Argyll. Pictures by Bill Heaney
Speaking about the two boats, referred to as 801 and 802, the minister insisted: “I am satisfied that procurements in relation to 801 and 802 were undertaken fastidiously, in good faith and following appropriate due diligence.”
Wheelhouse set out the Scottish Government’s view, that “contractor failure has been a very significant factor in the difficulties we have seen arise”.
And he said there was “disappointment” from ministers that the report did not “better reflect the contribution of the contractor’s non-performance, contract management and financial management” in relation to the problems experienced with the construction of the ferries.
Wheelhouse insisted: “While there are lessons to be learned, which we have acknowledged, we do not accept the committee’s description of a ‘catastrophic failure’.”
He said that Scottish ministers [including Derek Mackay, pictured right] had taken “balanced, informed decisions following appropriate diligence and independent advice”.
The minister continued: “In reluctantly accepting increased cost and timescale for the delivery of the vessels, Scottish ministers have acted and have secured hundreds of skilled jobs and wider economic activity.
“I do not regard those difficult decisions to represent a failure.”
Tory infrastructure spokesman Graham Simpson hit out and said: “The SNP are in total denial over their ferries fiasco. The minister responsible is effectively saying that there is nothing to see here and that nothing has gone wrong.
“The cost of these two ferries has spiralled out of control and they are still not even built yet, which has been a disgraceful failure for the communities which rely on them.
“It is yet another prime example of the SNP splashing the cash but failing to deliver the infrastructure on the ground.”
Liberal Democrat committee member Mike Rumbles attacked the government for an “appalling government response to the committee’s unanimous report”.
Rumbles blasted: “The failure to accept that there was a catastrophic failure in the procurement process suggests ministers have their hands over their eyes and their fingers in their ears.
“Meanwhile, the government’s response criticising the committee’s report for not blaming the contractor enough suggests that complacency is well entrenched in the Scottish Government, with an almost complete lack of understanding of the reality of their mistakes from the start to the finish of this sad episode.
“To top it off the Scottish Government does not even mention in their response the millions of pounds lost to the taxpayer. ”
He hit out: “This is the worst Government response to a committee report I have ever seen. The minister must immediately appear before the committee to answer for this dereliction of duty.”