Exclusive:Ferries fiasco Scotland: CMAL keep secret cost to taxpayer of KC investigating 'rigged' ferry contract

Scotland’s ferry procurement body hired Barry Smith KC to undertake an investigation into allegations of fraud.

The decision to keep secret the cost of a high-profile KC’s investigation into allegations a contract handed to Ferguson Marine shipyard for two ferries was “rigged” has been labelled as showing “contemptuous disregard for the Scottish taxpayer”.

CMAL, the ferry procurement body, refused to provide the amount it was spending on the services of Barry Smith KC. The lawyer has been hired to investigate allegations of fraud around the contract award for the £300 million ferries, the Glen Sannox and hull 802, which are over budget and more than five years late.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The allegations were first raised in a BBC documentary, The Great Ferry Scandal, in the latter part of last year.

The decision not to release the costs stands in stark contrast to the recent decision from the Scottish Information Commissioner, which forced the release of the more than £1m in salary paid to Lord Hardie, chair of the Edinburgh Tram Inquiry.

It is also in contrast to costs released by the Scottish Government on legal advice around the Alex Salmond inquiry and other public bodies such as the Scottish Parliament publishing legal costs on specific issues.

In response to a Freedom of Information request, CMAL said releasing the information would breach data protection rules and commercially prejudice both CMAL and the KC.

The body said disclosing spend would “give insight into the KC’s income” and “could harm” the KC and CMAL’s “ability to compete in the market” due to a potential “fear of their costs being disclosed”.

Officials said that as Mr Smith is self-employed, as all advocates are, the amounts he charges “could be considered personal data and it cannot be considered reasonable to disclose these costs”.

No information on the nature of the contract with Mr Smith, nor how many hours he is working on the investigation, was released, with CMAL stating that “constitutes privileged communications” and “contains legal advice”

When pressed, CMAL said it was unable to comment while the investigation was ongoing. Economy secretary Neil Gray also refused to commit to the costs being published and refused to say whether the public had a right to know.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

He said: “Obviously that’s for CMAL to answer. It’s their investigation and it’s up to them to respond to that. It is not for me to dictate how they use the report or what they publish from it.”

Asked whether the public should have a right to know how much of its money was being spent on the report, Mr Gray added: “It’s their report, it’s not the Scottish Government’s report, so I cannot dictate on those terms.”

However, critics attacked the public body for excuses labelled “hogwash” and a “warped textbook of how to lose votes”. Graham Simpson, transport spokesperson for the Scottish Conservatives, said it was in the public interest for the costs of the investigation to be made public.

He said: “The excuse being given for refusing to disclose these legal costs is hogwash. It is in the public interest, since we are paying for it, to know what the bill is. This shows a contemptuous disregard for the Scottish taxpayer.

“It’s the secretive way in which the SNP Government went about this deal that has required an investigation in the first place. Their lack of transparency over costs, or even the scope and timing of this contract, is adding insult to injury.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat economy spokesperson Willie Rennie echoed the concerns, saying: “This is yet another nine-inch nail in the coffin of transparency for the Scottish Government.

“It’s standard practice for governments and public bodies to be open about the cost of legal work when it's the taxpayer who pays for that work. But in the Scottish Government's warped textbook of how to lose votes and alienate the public, that kind of reasonable logic just doesn’t exist.

“The Scottish Government must ditch the desperate excuses and come clean on the cost of this legal work. They should also do the right thing by islanders and compensate for them for the utter mayhem they have caused.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Scottish Labour transport spokesperson Alex Rowley said: “This ferry fiasco has cost taxpayers millions and left island communities in chaos, but the SNP has fostered a culture of secrecy and cover-up throughout.

“This investigation should be a chance to shed some much needed light on this sorry affair, but that requires real transparency from all involved.” A spokesperson for CMAL said “ We are not at liberty to comment on the KC investigation while it is ongoing.”



Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.