MSPs reject demands for ministerial resignations if island ferries delayed again

MSPs have rejected opposition calls to ensure ministers will resign if there are further delays to the ships which were due to go into service in 2018.

MSPs voted down a motion from the Scottish Liberal Democrats which called for assurances from the Scottish Government that ministerial resignations would follow any further announcements of delays.

The Glen Sannox, hull 801, was due to enter service on the Arran route in 2018, while hull 802, earmarked for the Skye, Harris and North Uist route, is still being built and will not be ready until 2023 at the latest.

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Audit Scotland claimed the cost of the two new CalMac ferries could run to two-and-a-half times the original £97m price tag and hit as much as £240m.

Ferguson Marine won the contract for the ferries in 2015 and was later nationalised after it entered administration in 2019.

The Scottish Government has been subject to fierce criticism over its handling of the scandal after Audit Scotland stated there was no available evidence as to why ministers went ahead with the deal despite objections from CMAL.

Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Alex Cole-Hamilton, said island communities were “doubly disappointed and angry” at the Scottish Government’s inability to solve the problem and deliver the ferries, adding “it seems that absolutely nobody is being held account for this failure.”

Graham Simpson, transport spokesperson for the Scottish Conservatives, said his party backed the calls for ministers to “fall on their swords” if there are more delays.

MSPs held a debate around the ongoing ferries scandal.

He added: “The procurement of 801 and 802 is a scandal. Heads should have rolled and they haven’t.”

Neil Bibby, transport spokesperson for Scottish Labour, labelled the delays “severe and unacceptable” and backed the Liberal Democrat motion.

He added: “The truth is that this is one of the biggest public procurement failures in 20 years and the failure to deliver these vessels on time and on budget has deprived islanders of the lifeline ferry services that they need.”

Ivan McKee, the business minister, told MSPs the Scottish Government was investing £580m in ferry infrastructure and celebrated the public ownership of Ferguson Marine which he said had saved hundreds of jobs.

He said: “We stand by the commitment to the ship-building communities in Inverclyde and the island communities that rely on the vessels the yard will deliver.”

Cabinet secretary for finance and the economy, Kate Forbes, also defended the decision to save the yard but said progress has not been as fast as the government want.

She added that she expects Ferguson Marine to become “competitive, productive and efficient”, start winning contracts for ferries, and deliver 801 and 802 at the “fastest and most achievable pace”.

Ms Forbes said: “Lessons have been learned, not least in the most recent procurement exercise and also in the way that the Scottish Government invest in private companies.

"Things have not progressed as we might have hoped, but progress is being made in arguably the most important element in all of that, and that is to complete these vessels as quickly as possible.”

MSPs voted 65 votes to 52 in favour of a Scottish Government amendment rejecting demands for “assurances” there would be resignations in the event of further delays.

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