FERRIES FIASCO: ‘Stench of political corruption’ over ferries scandal

Thursday, 29 September, 2022

Tory leader Douglas Ross and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon clashed in parliament today.

Douglas Ross has today condemned the First Minister over leaked documents which indicate that Ferguson Marine was given preferential treatment during the bidding process for the contract to build Hulls 801 and 802.

The Scottish Conservative leader said that the evidence, which was uncovered by investigative journalists at the BBC, looked like ‘corporate fraud’ and had ‘a stench of political corruption’.

Douglas Ross questioned Nicola Sturgeon over why the shipyard was given a confidential meeting with CMAL assessors, a 424-page document of detailed design specifications, and the chance to change its bid after the deadline – in contrast to all other bidders.

However, the First Minister failed to offer an explanation for this preferential treatment – or for the Scottish Government and its agencies failing to provide Audit Scotland with this evidence during their investigation earlier this year.

Questioned over the £84 million increase in costs for the two ferries that came to light in a letter from the shipyard yesterday, the First Minister said the additional costs would be ‘scrutinised’.

Douglas Ross said that Nicola Sturgeon was ‘incredibly’ effectively admitting that the taxpayer would have no option but to swallow an additional £84 million overspend, as well as a further delay to the vessels’ completion.

Douglas Ross said: “This week, it emerged that Ferguson shipyard had received preferential treatment from this government and its agencies in its bid to build two ferries.

“Ferguson were the only bidder given special access to a 424-page cheat sheet on how to build the ferries – a cheat sheet they literally copied page after page from.

“They received a confidential in-person meeting with the people involved in buying the ferries, and they were the only bidder allowed to resubmit with a new design and change their price after the deadline.

“The only conclusion that any reasonable person could draw is the deal was rigged. But we didn’t find out any of that until this leaked dossier was uncovered by investigative journalists this week.

“Instead, we got secrecy. The public were kept in the dark. It’s clear that there has been a cover up by the government and its agencies.

“The First Minister thinks this is no big deal, but this does matter – because the price and the delays keep spiraling further.

“It emerged yesterday in a letter from Ferguson that the delays are continuing – Hull 802 is now going to be six years late. And, according to Fergusons, their total project budget has increased by £84 million on previous estimates.

“This scandal looks like corporate fraud and has a stench of political corruption.

“The First Minister said in March she has ‘ultimate responsibility’ for this deal. She used to pose for pictures at the yard and shouted from the rooftops that it was one of her proudest achievements.

“Nicola Sturgeon was happy to take all the praise – but now she refuses to share any of the blame.”

Scottish Conservative Shadow Minister for Transport, Graham Simpson, right, said:“Island residents will be outraged and dismayed to see even further delays announced to the delivery of these two lifeline ferries.

“The Glen Sannox, farcically launched with faked painted windows by Nicola Sturgeon in 2017, has already been delayed for years. Now, this crucial two-month slippage will see it miss the start of the vital summer tourist season.

“And Hull 802 is even further behind, with its delivery date now pushed into 2024.

“This is beyond shambolic. Island communities are suffering – and will continue to suffer for at least a year-and-a-half longer – as a result of the SNP’s epic incompetence.

“Yet even as these ferries get pushed back again and again, all SNP Ministers try to do is dodge the blame for this fiasco.

“Scotland’s islands need answers now. This is a shameful scandal, and it’s time the SNP took responsibility.”

At another meeting, Graham Simpson said: “On Tuesday, we saw evidence that Ferguson Marine received special treatment from this SNP Government. It appears Ferguson became an inside-track shoo-in for the job, unbeknown to any other bidder.

“The SNP were desperate to award the contract to this yard, and we know how things ended up.

“These revelations could well constitute insider dealing, which would leave the door open to costly legal action and add to the already astronomic cost of the two ferries being built at Ferguson’s right now.

“The Glen Sannox is still not complete, and Hull 802 is even further behind. Now, a letter from the shipyard today has said there may be even further delays.  Yet Nicola Sturgeon doesn’t think this is a scandal – according to her it’s a ‘situation’.

“Make no mistake, this is a scandalous state of affairs, and if this Government was behaving properly, heads would roll – but it’s always someone else’s fault with the SNP.

“It’s time they came clean. If CMAL did favours for Ferguson’s it was because they were told to. This goes all the way to the top.

“I speak to islanders regularly and hear the same stories every time. Missed appointments, people not able to get to work, kids not getting to school, people moving away because it too stressful.

“Island communities fear that another winter of chaos looms. This is beyond shameful.  The SNP must now set out an urgent plan for replacing our ageing ferry fleet. They must order a public inquiry into the disaster with Ferguson Marine. And they must submit their dealings to a police investigation if – as seems indicted – there has been any criminality.”

The Lib Dems put the boot in too.  Willie Rennie MSP, left,  pressed Mr Swinney on the fresh announcement of further delays and cancellations to ferries and commented:  “Join the dots. It’s simple. The SNP are the reason for this scandal. They didn’t just happen to be in charge at the time. They caused the chaos.  

“In any normal government adopting international norms, ministers would resign without delay.

“But not this government. It’s everyone else’s fault, according to this government.

“How could we doubt them? They were trying their best.

“Well, let’s look at what their best means.

“Their best means that the ferries that were supposed to be built five years ago are still stuck in the docks.

“The best the nationalists have to offer means wasting £150 million in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis.

“For islanders, that means 7,431 cancelled sailings this year so far. Hospital appointments missed.  Children missing school. Shops and businesses missing supplies.

“Their best means that the reputation of good workers at a Scottish shipyard has been trashed. 

“So trashed that the yard didn’t even bid for the next ferry contract. That ferry contact has been awarded to a yard in Turkey.

“Best means Audit Scotland stating that there was a lack of transparent decision making.

“Their best means launching a ferry with painted windows on the side.  If this is their best, please, save us from their worst.”

Further reports of the debate will follow in The Democrat later today.

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