Scotland ferries fiasco: Top KC brought in to investigate 'rigged' ferry contract

Scotland’s ferry procurement body has hired a leading lawyer to undertake an independent investigation into whether it “rigged” the contract award for two embattled ferries, it can be revealed.

Addleshaw Goddard, lawyers for Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL), which owns and is responsible for the majority of ferry infrastructure in Scotland, were instructed to appoint a KC by the agency to examine the procurement process for the Glen Sannox and the as-yet unnamed hull 802.

Pressed for more detail on the appointment, CMAL refused to share the name of the lawyer, likely to be earning a significant daily fee for their work, and refused to comment further.

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The Scottish Government, asked if a KC had been appointed, how much the investigation would cost and when the findings would be published, told The Scotsman that neither Transport Scotland nor the Scottish Government had appointed a KC. Ministers failed to answer the other questions posed.

The Auditor General is also investigating allegations first aired in a BBC documentary, something confirmed by Deputy First Minister John Swinney in late September.

The documentary alleged the contract award for the Glen Sannox and hull 802 was “rigged” by CMAL in favour of the Ferguson Marine shipyard, then owned by tycoon Jim McColl, also a prominent independence supporter.

Critics demanded the Government provide key details of the investigation and called on MSPs to be allowed to scrutinise the appointed KC, calling the ongoing ferries scandal “murky” and “mired in evasiveness”.

Construction of the ships at the now Government-owned Ferguson Marine shipyard has been heavily delayed, with the project costs soaring above £300 million. The two vessels are now set to be at least six years late when they are completed.

The Ferguson Marine shipyard at Port Glasgow. Picture: John DevlinThe Ferguson Marine shipyard at Port Glasgow. Picture: John Devlin
The Ferguson Marine shipyard at Port Glasgow. Picture: John Devlin

The fiasco has sparked significant political controversy, with the scandal dogging the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon, who launched the Glen Sannox in 2017, for years. The investigation into the procurement process was announced by Mr Swinney following the broadcast of the BBC Disclosure documentary “The Great Ferries Scandal”.

Mr Swinney told MSPs ministers “would explore what further steps” were required to ensure the allegations were “properly, independently, investigated”.

The allegations aired in the documentary centre on the fact a 400-page document that included the ferry operator CalMac’s technical requirements for two new vessels found its way into the hands of Ferguson Marine naval architects during the procurement process for the ferries.

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The yard went on to heavily plagiarise the document, copying and pasting around 90 per cent of it, for its contract bid.

Government officials blamed a shipping consultancy firm, Houlder Ltd, for the leak. It worked with both CMAL as a sub-contractor and Ferguson Marine on the design and tender bid respectively for the vessels.

CMAL have repeatedly defended the procurement process, stating it had found no evidence to support claims of preferential treatment.

A spokesperson for CMAL said: “CMAL has instructed its lawyers Addleshaw Goddard to appoint a King’s Counsel to conduct an independent investigation relating to the procurement process for hulls 801 and 802. We are unable to comment further while this investigation is ongoing.”

It is understood the BBC is yet to be contacted by the investigation into the allegations.

Scottish Conservative transport spokesperson Graham Simpson said the “ferries saga” had been “murky and mired in secrecy and evasiveness”.

He said: “The SNP should tell us who they have appointed to run this investigation, who they will report to, what the terms of reference are, how much they are being paid and how long they have been given to do the work.

“MSPs should also be able to question the KC appointed once they have completed their work and there should be parliamentary scrutiny of the final report.

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“The Government should commit to following their recommendations, as well as any recommendations made by the public audit committee when they report.”

Willie Rennie, the Scottish Liberal Democrat economy spokesperson, said: “The purpose of an independent investigation is to rebuild confidence, so it seems self-defeating not to be open and transparent about the investigation. I would urge CMAL to see the value in changing course and release this information."

Scottish Labour transport spokesman Neil Bibby said: “This fiasco just gets murkier and murkier. It is clear for all to see that the SNP Government’s dodgy and botched dealings have exacerbated this situation.

“We need clarity now on who is leading this investigation, how much it will cost and when the truth will come to light.”

The Scottish Parliament’s public audit committee is set to report on its inquiry into the delays to the Glen Sannox and hull 802 next month following high-profile evidence sessions including the First Minister, the disgraced former finance secretary Derek Mackay, and senior executives from CMAL and Transport Scotland.

Addleshaw Goddard was contacted for comment.

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