Ferries fiasco: Jim McColl brands Nicola Sturgeon a liar over island ferries deal

Nicola Sturgeon has been branded a liar by the former owner of the Ferguson Marine shipyard as the feud over who is responsible for the delays and overspend around two ferries continues.

Jim McColl, who took over the shipyard in 2014, told the BBC the First Minister's claim the yard would close without the contract for two new CalMac ferries was “a lie”.

The former SNP ally also disputed the party leader’s claim that 400 jobs were saved by the contract for the ferries, however a spokesperson for the First Minister said the claim was “at odds with the facts”.

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He has previously said the contract was rushed through for political reasons in 2015 due to the SNP conference, something the Scottish Government strongly denies.

The two ships, the Glen Sannox and the unnamed hull 802, are now at least five years late and running at £150 million over budget.

Ms Sturgeon and her Government has come under fierce pressure around why ministers decided to award the contract to Ferguson Marine Engineering Limited (FMEL) given concerns raised by ferry infrastructure owners CMAL over the lack of a full builder’s refund guarantee.

Jim McColl, former owner of Ferguson Marine, called Nicola Sturgeon a liar during an interview with the BBC

The contract has resulted in years of disagreement between Ferguson Marine, CMAL and the Scottish Government over who is responsible for the delays to the vessels.

Speaking on BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme, Mr McColl denied the yard would have shut without the contract with the loss of 400 jobs.

He said: “That’s a lie. At the time there were 150 employees, not 400.

“I think she was a bit rattled in the interview and she mixed it up with the statement that they made about saving the yard.”

The shipyard in Port Glasgow was eventually brought into public ownership in 2019.

When it was suggested to Mr McColl that calling Ms Sturgeon’s statement a lie was “very strong words”, he said: “Well, it’s not true”.

Mr McColl continued: “The yard had outstanding work.

“It was still working on the ferry Katrina, which wasn’t launched until 2016 and was delivered early and on budget.

“It also had additional construction work, fabrication work, so there was no danger of the yard going under at that time.

“That was a slip by the First Minister in the interview.”

Mr McColl then admitted he had made a mistake himself in an earlier interview with Good Morning Scotland.

He had initially claimed he had not signed the contract for the ferries, but documents bearing his signature were produced which showed this was not the case.

The businessman said his company had been clear with the Government from the start about the lack of a cash refund guarantee.

He said: “When we were tendering for it, you’re right that was in the tender, we made it clear we couldn’t do that.

"We were told that we could put together an alternative, which we did and we put a proposal in August 26, which was not a full cash fund guarantee, but it was a parent company guarantee and an insurance bond.”

It is now estimated the two CalMac vessels will not be completed until 2023 at a cost of £250m – more than twice the original budget.

Mr McColl, owner of Clyde Blowers Capital, sat on the SNP Scottish Government’s Council of Economic Advisers until the body was replaced in July last year.

The First Minister’s spokesperson said: “Not for the first time, Mr McColl’s comments on a BBC interview are at odds with the facts.

“The reality – as a simple reading of the First Minister’s interview shows – is that she was clearly referring to the 400 people ‘currently’ employed at the yard.

“And those 400 jobs would not currently exist if the Scottish Government had not taken the action we did to save the yard – that is a fact.”

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