It may come as a surprise that, despite the price tag for two ferries being built at the Ferguson Marine shipyard tripling to nearly £300 million, one of them, the Glen Sannox, has officially passed the Scottish Government’s ‘value for money’ test.
However, even judged by such standards, the same cannot be said for the other vessel, the unnamed hull 802. Indeed, Cabinet Secretary Neil Gray revealed that it “could be cheaper to re-procure a new vessel”, rather than continue the current work.
Given the vessels are five years late and counting, that represents a stunning admission about just how badly the relatively simple task of building two ships has gone. Gray said that even though the “narrow value for money case has not been made”, it was important to carry on because building a new ship would mean islanders might not get the new vessel until 2027. It would also put Ferguson Marine’s future “in jeopardy”. However, while Gray insisted hull 802 would be delivered by late summer next year, experience shows this is a prediction that should be taken with a pinch of salt.
The spiralling costs and delays were bad enough, but there have also been controversies about the mysterious way the vessels were commissioned by the Scottish Government and their complicated dual-fuel system. Are there any more revelations to come from this whole disastrous affair?
Calls for a public inquiry are understandable. However, the Edinburgh Tram Inquiry – commissioned nine years ago and only now ready to report – provides a depressing warning about just how long such investigations can take.
But what should be clear to all in government is that this can never happen again. One way or another, lessons must be learned. The Scottish taxpayer and islanders who have suffered twice the harm – forced to pay for this incompetence through their taxes while also having to put up with lifeline services in disarray – cannot afford to see the same problems reoccur every time Scotland needs a new ferry.
To wait years only to be told it would be better to start again from scratch (but we’re not going to) represents a betrayal of the government’s basic duty to govern competently – one that many will see as emblematic of the SNP’s time in power.