Ferries scandal Scotland: Legal probe results into 'rigged' ferry contract due 'fairly soon', says transport minister
A leading lawyer’s investigation into whether a key ferry contract’s procurement process was “rigged” is an “all-encompassing review” of allegations made by a BBC documentary, the Scottish Government has claimed.
Barry Smith KC was hired by ferry procurement body CMAL to undertake a probe into the allegations raised in the BBC’s documentary, The Great Ferries Scandal.
However, it later emerged his remit had been narrowed to solely cover whether fraud had taken place, rather than whether procurement rules were broken during the tender process for the significantly delayed and over-budget ferries, the Glen Sannox and Glen Rosa.
Questioned about the probe by Scottish Conservative transport spokesperson Graham Simpson, the Government appeared to simultaneously claim all allegations were being examined while confirming the scope was narrowly framed.
Fiona Hyslop, the transport minister, said she was unable to comment on The Scotsman’s revelation the probe would “exclude investigation” on whether the contract was procured fairly, the central allegation made by the BBC.
She said: “My understanding is that they were looking at all of the allegations that were made in the programme by the BBC.” She said she expected the results to be published “fairly soon”.
Alison Irvine, interim chief executive of Transport Scotland, said Mr Smith had been hired to “do a review of all the allegations made” in the BBC documentary.
However, she added: “The focus is on whether or not the process was arranged or influenced in a way that was dishonest or fraudulent. To my mind, while it’s a matter for CMAL, that sounds to me like an all-encompassing review of the issues raised by the BBC.”
This suggests that while allegations of procurement rules being broken may be looked at, they will only be looked at in the terms of fraud.
The BBC pulled out of co-operating in the probe in August, stating: “The central allegation made by the BBC was that FMEL was given preferential treatment in breach of procurement rules. We were told at the meeting that this is not a matter Mr Smith is investigating.
"We are concerned that the remit has been drawn so narrowly that it will exclude examination of the important allegations the BBC made. As a result, we do not see how we can assist further than with what we have already published in our journalism, which we fully stand behind.”
At the time, CMAL declined to comment.
Ms Irvine added: “We do know that the KC has undertaken the interviews that they were looking at, but what we haven’t seen is any formal finding from that. And the fact that that is right and proper because that report is going to be directed to the CMAL board, and depending on the findings of that work will depend on what actions are taken yet.”
CMAL and the Scottish Government have committed to publish the report in some form. However, it is unclear how much of it will be redacted or edited by CMAL prior to release given it will be presented to the board before it is made public.
A spokesperson for CMAL said: “CMAL is unable to comment on the investigation while it is ongoing. The KC’s report will be considered by the CMAL Board once it is made available.”
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