By Bill Heaney
When will the Scottish Government provide an update on the anticipated delivery date of the ferries under construction at Ferguson Marine, in light of recent reports that the number of faults in the two vessels has risen?
That was the big question asked by West of Scotland Conservative MSP Jamie Greene in the Scottish Parliament this week.
The Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy, Kate Forbes, who succeeded the disgraced Derek Mackay, told MSPs: “The letter sent by Ferguson Marine to the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee at the end of March sets out the new timetable and costs for the vessels, following the legacy cabling issue.
“Critically, that new schedule has been developed in partnership with Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited, and CMAL has endorsed the timetable.
“Vessel 801 will be delivered between March and May 2023 and 802 will be delivered between October and December 2023.
“At the request of the NZET Committee, the Ferguson Marine chief executive updates the committee quarterly. The next update is due at the end of June.
Finance Secretary Katie Forbes and West of Scotland Tory Jamie Greene.
Jamie Greene: replied: “I thank the cabinet secretary for that answer. It represents a very welcome shift in tone from the SNP after the disgraceful comments that were made by one of the SNP’s MPs at Westminster, who asserted that we somehow need to change the record and stop talking about ferries. I say to the Government that the islanders of Arran whom I spoke to this morning are furious and want us to do anything but change the record on the issue of ferries.
“Sadly, what I heard from the minister was repetition of what we heard months ago, and was not an answer to the question about the increased number of faults in the vessels. I want a cast-iron guarantee—so do our islanders—that vessel 801 will be in service by this time next year and that vessel 802 will be in service by the autumn of next year. We all wish the new chief executive of Ferguson’s the very best of luck in delivering the vessels, but our islanders want to know whether their vessels will actually be in service.
“On a scale of 1 to 10, how confident is the cabinet secretary that the Glen Sannox will be sailing passengers to Brodick by this time next year? In the spirit of taking responsibility, will she put her job on the line, if it is not?”
Kate Forbes told him:”A senior member of the Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd team has recently been seconded to Ferguson Marine’s senior management, and CMAL’s owner observation reports—which I think are what the member is referring to—are now being treated as the snagging and defects list.
“Solving all the issues is crucial. It is part of the programme, and I think that we have got the best people on the ground to do that.”
Jamie Greene was not content with her answer. He said: “We have good people, but we do not have an answer. There was no cast-iron guarantee and, once again, no one in the SNP is willing to take full responsibility for delivery of the project or the vessels.
Of course, this stems back to the miraculous missing email. The First Minister gleefully attributes all the blame to Derek Mackay. The email magically appeared in the opening minutes of an Opposition debate, but it still, in the eyes of Audit Scotland, does not answer key questions.
“Why did the contract pass two rounds of due diligence, contrary to legal advice? Why was 80 per cent of the agreed price for the ships paid when the progress on building the ships was anything but progress? Did the First Minister herself give the go-ahead for the contract to be awarded to her friend Mr [Jim] McColl?
“There clearly remains a very real risk that the ferries will not be delivered. It is more than five years since their due date and the cost has spiraled to more than a quarter of a billion pounds of taxpayers’ money.
“If the cabinet secretary cannot answer those questions, which Audit Scotland wants answers to, will she answer these two from me? Will the Government commit today to the Deputy First Minister making a full statement to Parliament on his role in all this? Secondly, will the Government agree to a full public inquiry into its handling of the shambles?”
However, Kate Forbes told him: “I am here once again, in another week, answering questions on Ferguson Marine, so the scrutiny in this way for the past two months has probably exceeded any other form of scrutiny.
“On whether there will be a public inquiry, we have, of course, accepted the recommendations in the Audit Scotland report, among which are that we persevere with getting the boats delivered, and that we do an in-depth lessons-learned exercise after they have been delivered.
“The Audit Scotland report comes after the cross-party inquiry that was led by the then Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee. There is already a comprehensive overview of the situation, with more than 200 documents having been published.
“On the specific question, I have been absolutely crystal clear on what I expect from Ferguson Marine in completing the vessels. What resulted in delayed construction to the vessels was not a document but a question of construction.
“Jamie Greene does not need to believe me on that; he just needs to read the Audit Scotland report, which is quite clear that the reason why the vessels are overdue and over budget is a matter of their construction.
“That is why my priority—I was at Ferguson Marine as recently as last week—is to make sure that the boats are delivered not just for his constituents, but for mine.”