Ferguson ferries debacle is a prime example of the SNP government’s spendthrift incompetence – Brian Wilson

The Ferguson shipyard debacle is a terrible tale of political opportunism, spendthrift use of public money, mind-boggling incompetence and shameless blame-shifting.

An independent inquiry should be held into the ferries scandal centred on the Ferguson Marine shipyard in Port Glasgow (Picture: Lewis McKenzie/PA)
An independent inquiry should be held into the ferries scandal centred on the Ferguson Marine shipyard in Port Glasgow (Picture: Lewis McKenzie/PA)

In all respects, it is a useful metaphor for the Scottish government. The most immediate victims are communities which now find their lifeline ferry services in unprecedented disarray with absolutely no sign of relief.

The stock Sturgeon defence in these situations is that they acted with best intentions and it’s someone else’s fault things have gone wrong. It won’t wash.

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Governments of all hues helped keep the Ferguson yard afloat for decades. It was done quietly and judiciously. In the past, there was no reckless disregard for reality in return for a pre-election photo opportunity, by rushing through a public sector order which the yard was incapable of fulfilling.

In a world of big numbers, £300 million for two medium-size ferries may not be enough to shock. But remember, two thirds of that money could have gone on relieving poverty, shoring up council services or any other useful cause you can think of. Instead, it has been squandered on a doomed stunt.

Even claims about saving jobs need scrutiny. The same number could have been protected at a fraction of the current cost. But how many are even local? In his “valedictory report”, the turnaround director, Tim Hair, made clear that without eastern European workers returning after Christmas, the job could not be completed. I wonder how that’s going?

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When the final bill is submitted, Mr Hair’s services will have cost Scottish taxpayers around £2 million over a 30-month period. He was appointed on the basis of a phone conversation with two civil servants. This week he returned with a final curtain-bow – one hopes at no additional expense.

In a supplementary report to Holyrood, Mr Hair revealed this week that there is a huge issue with cables on Hull 801 (aka Glen Sannox) which will further delay its completion with knock-on effects for Hull 802 (destined for the Uig-Lochmaddy-Tarbert routes), both already five years late.

Space and expertise prevent me from elaborating on the cable issue (details are on the Holyrood website) but it is clearly no minor matter – just like the recent revelation that they are still arguing about appending “ducktails” to the vessels. But why has Mr Hair only reported on it now?

When the cables issue was raised at First Minister’s Questions, Ms Sturgeon adopted her “it wisnae us” defence, claiming the offending cables were installed pre-nationalisation. That still leaves two-and-a-half years for the issue to be discovered. It also begs the question of who was overseeing construction on behalf of the client, Caledonian MacBrayne Assets Limited?

Astonishingly, the chairman of that accident-prone body, Erik Østergaard, who occasionally flies in from Copenhagen, has now been levered into the same position at Caledonian MacBrayne.

It does seem unfortunate that our great seafaring nation cannot find anyone in Scotland (far less the affected areas) to occupy these positions. But then the function of hand-picked SNP quangoteers is to serve the government, not the people.

As the millions are splashed around at a rate which would embarrass drunken sailors, it is no surprise to find that Ernst and Young were hired to advise on the future governance of ferry services which currently falls into the deadly triangle of CalMac, CMAL and Transport Scotland.

However, Ms Sturgeon has pre-empted their report by ruling out even discussion of key options which they were asked to report on – and to which islanders are now much more open because of what has been visited upon them. Which begs the question, why were Ernst and Young hired in the first place?

It is a ritual to call for public inquiries into each fiasco that unfolds. However that demand must be made in this case. The least we are entitled to in return for our £300 million and the devastation of island transport links is an independent explanation of how on Earth this utter shambles has been allowed to happen.

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