Ferguson Marine ferry fiasco is so bad it could start to hit support for Scottish independence – Scotsman comment

The ongoing scandal over the much-delayed and over-budget construction of two CalMac ferries at the Clyde’s Ferguson Marine shipyard is, without a shadow of a doubt, “one of the worst public spending disasters since devolution” as Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross pointed out yesterday.

CalMac services have been hit by the absence of the two overdue ferries (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
CalMac services have been hit by the absence of the two overdue ferries (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

On the latest estimate, the two vessels, called the Glen Sannox and “hull 802”, will cost about £240 million – two-and-a-half times the original price – and will not actually start sailing until next year. At the earliest.

And for those whose memories can’t quite place it due to the passage of time, the contracts for these two ferries were awarded all the way back in 2015 – the year when David Cameron won a general election, Jeremy Clarkson punched a Top Gear producer after being told there was no hot food, and Uptown Funk was topping the charts.

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Given the spiralling costs, is it over-the-top to suggest the final price could outstrip the £414 million cost of the Scottish Parliament? Could even the £1 billion cost of the Edinburgh Airport-city centre tram link be eclipsed?

Scotland seems to have a serious problem keeping major infrastructure projects within budget or even remotely close to it.

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There have been perfectly understandable calls for an inquiry into exactly what went so badly wrong with the apparently simple task of building two boats. However, with the tram inquiry now heading into its eighth year, it seems we can’t organise them either.

Instead, the best we can hope for may be that the Scottish Government gets a grip on this long-running farce and takes steps to ensure nothing like it ever happens again.

This week’s Audit Scotland report appears to offer a number of sensible suggestions to ministers, the shipyard and the other bodies involved, about how to finally do that.

Auditor General Stephen Boyle said there had been a “multitude of failings” and highlighted “a lack of transparent decision-making, a lack of project oversight, and no clear understanding of what significant sums of public money have achieved”.

Should this continue, the public – whose money has been wafted about so freely – may start to question whether independence would simply provide an opportunity for financial blunders on an even bigger scale. And perhaps that’s just what’s needed to make ministers finally take matters seriously.

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