One of Nicola Sturgeon’s business advisers has threatened to take a Scottish Government public body to court in a row over a £45 million loan to help cover the cost of two ferries.
Jim McColl, the billionaire founder of Clyde Blowers and a member of the government’s Council of Economic Advisers, said he was prepared to sue Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL), which owns Scotland’s west coast ports and ferries over the dispute.
One of Mr McColl’s companies, the Ferguson Marine shipyard in Port Glasgow, is building two cutting-edge hybrid fuel ferries for state ferry operator Caledonian MacBrayne, but claims design changes have added to the cost of the £97m contract.
CMAL insists that Ferguson signed the contract with “full and prior knowledge of the specification” and has refused to pay more for the ferries.
“Right now we’re around two months away from finalising a formal claim for the additional work CMAL has requested on this project,” Mr McColl told a Sunday newspaper. “If CMAL continue to fail to engage with us we will take them to court.”
The Scottish Government has extended a £45m loan to the shipyard to ensure work continues on the ferries, which have already been delayed. The first vessel, the MV Glenn Sannox, was intended to begin serving the Arran-Ardrossan route in November, but will not be ready until next year.
“We are confident we have carried out additional work, which CMAL, ie the Scottish Government, has to pay for,” Mr McColl said. “Once we are paid we will pay back the loan to the Scottish government.”
The loan has prompted claims of ‘crony capitalism’ against the government, which Mr McColl denied. “I’m not linked to the SNP and I have never funded the party.
“I’m an economic adviser, along with others from Ireland, Hong Kong and the US, who give advice to the Scottish government on the economy. I’m the token industrial guy.
“We are paying 15 per cent interest on these loans. This isn’t a handout, it’s not propping up a failing business.”
Mr McColl said the CMAL contract had become an “albatross” and claimed the refusal to discuss additional costs “has put our business under pressure”.
A CMAL spokesperson said: “CMAL fundamentally disagrees with any assertion that there have been significant changes to the vessels.
“Minor changes have followed the contractual process and payments for these have been agreed and made in full to Ferguson Marine.
“These costs have been covered by a 3 per cent project contingency budget held by CMAL.”