Analysis: MSPs playing the blame game on ferries fiasco

Holyrood is awash with MSPs desperately attempting to pin the blame of the late, over-budget ferry donkey.

For politics anoraks the Public Audit committee in the Scottish Parliament has been a must-watch in the past couple of weeks as MSPs took evidence from Stephen Boyle, the Auditor General.

Author of the scathing report into the ferries fiasco, Mr Boyle has spoken as strongly as ever on the failings around the contract and delivery of the now over-budget, and late, hulls 801 and 802.

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His appearance at committee resulted in a theatre for MSPs playing the blame game, but the approaches from SNP figures and the responses from Mr Boyle are telling.

Throughout his evidence sessions, the Auditor General has highlighted and pointed to the lack of a full builder’s refund guarantee in the contract.

The preference for a 25 per cent refund guarantee, he says, transferred significant monetary risk back from the fabricator – in this case Ferguson Marine – to the buyer – in this case the Scottish Government.

SNP MSP Willie Coffey spent both sessions blaming the quality of construction and decision to start fabrication before designs were finalised, aiming to point the finger of blame at FMEL.

The Auditor General was giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament

The Auditor General had little time for this, stating while construction issues were part of the story, it was not unusual to start building the ships prior to final designs.

Mr Coffey’s colleague, Colin Beattie, pushed the Auditor General on the quality of advice, claiming what ministers saw supported the suggestion the contract was “broadly comparable” with the tender specification, which had initially included a full refund guarantee.

Mr Boyle said the final agreement was not “broadly comparable” as suggested, and there was a “mismatch” in CMAL’s concerns and communication to ministers.

But risk, particularly risk to taxpayer funds, is the critical factor for the Auditor General.

It is why the lack of documentation on why the risks articulated by CMAL around the builder’s refund guarantee were viewed as acceptable by ministers is of such importance.

The strategy of Government MSPs in the committee suddenly makes more sense in that context and boils down to blaming the shipyard, not the contract.

With disputes between CMAL and FMEL going back years and ministers under pressure, only one thing is clear.

The blame game will continue.

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