CONCERNS were voiced today that the SNP's biggest donor could receive millions of pounds of public money to subsidise a hovercraft service across the Forth without the contract going out to tender.
Brian Souter's Stagecoach group has drawn up a business case for the route following a two-week trial last summer, but it says it would need a 3.3 million subsidy.
Mr Souter gave 500,000 to the SNP's campaign at last year's election and 125,000 since. Today Lothians Labour MSP George Foulkes warned that when a government was dealing with a company whose chief executive was a major party donor, "highest possible standards of openness must apply".
The hovercraft trial in July between Portobello and Kirkcaldy was backed with 92,000 from the South East of Scotland Transport Partnership (Sestran).
In October Stagecoach unveiled proposals for a regular Leith-Kirkcaldy service with investment from the company of 10.3m, but requiring a public sector subsidy of 3.3m for the first three years.
In a written parliamentary answer, Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson said Sestran had had no direct discussions with other potential hovercraft operators.
Mr Stevenson said procurement of a hovercraft service would have to comply with all relevant European Union legislation.
But he added: "Whether any tender process was required would depend on the specific circumstances of any case."
Mr Foulkes said: "If the SNP wants to rise above any suspicion that there's something dodgy going on, then there really should a be a tender for the work.
"After Trump and the latest revelations about the MacDonald Hotels' planning applications, there are now serious concerns over the government's relationship with Stagecoach.
"When a government is dealing with a company whose chief executive gave the SNP 625,000, the highest possible standards of openness must apply."
Stagecoach said it was a matter for the various public sector agencies to decide on what basis any support would be given and what rules governed it.
A spokesman added: "We would expect nothing less than for our proposals to undergo the same rigorous assessment that any other project would receive."
A Scottish Government spokesman said it had not received a detailed business plan from any company for a Forth hovercraft service and until it did, questions about tendering were hypothetical.