Scotland ferries scandal: Ministers warned of 'serious risk' that could see troubled ferries delayed again
The delivery of a lifeline ferry by Ferguson Marine is at risk of being delayed again after Scottish ministers were warned of “serious risks” relating to the construction of one of the delayed and over-budget vessels.
Ministers have been advised the construction of hull 801, named the Glen Sannox, is “still behind schedule”, with an update report warning of several “serious risks” to the project.
However, CMAL and Ferguson Marine continue to assure ministers the planned delivery dates for the Glen Sannox is still considered “achievable” despite ongoing problems.
Critics said the update was “disappointing”, but “hardly a surprise”, with calls for individual ministers to resign if islanders face further delays.
The report, dated July 29, details the ongoing work at the shipyard on the two ferries, which are more than five years late and more than £150 million over-budget.
Their construction has been at the centre of ongoing political controversy due to the delays and the decision to award the contract to Ferguson Marine in 2015 without a full builder’s refund guarantee.
This decision opened the Scottish Government up to significant financial risk, which was compounded when the yard went into administration and eventual nationalisation in 2019.
Hull 801 and hull 802 are destined to serve the Clyde and the Hebrides networks when they enter service.
The report warns: “The project is still behind schedule due to the slow turn-around of outstanding design detail, completion of background outfitting and high levels of rework caused by inconsistent working practices.”
Despite this, CMAL states the delivery dates for hull 801 remains between March and May next year and between October and December next year for hull 802, something they claim is still “achievable”.
The submission by CMAL to ministers states the rate of electrical cable installation on hull 801 remains “significantly lower than what could be achieved if long-standing design issues were addressed earlier in the work”.
The ferry infrastructure body said work to reinstall cables, which were removed in February this year due to being too short, was underway, but warned “progress is slow”.
They added: “It remains to be seen whether the installation contractor can meet the program’s objectives.
"The overall completion achievement currently reported as 16 per cent overall should be seen as a significant ongoing risk.”
Ministers have also been warned that changes to the design, brought about due to the need to meet regulatory or contracted specification requirements, also remain “a significant risk to the project”.
A total of 45 Owner Observation Reports, used to highlight problems with safety, quality, specification or poor design, quality or production problems, remain unresolved.
However, this is an improvement on the 71 which were awaiting resolution in May.
Ministers have also been warned about a “worryingly low” frequency of call out inspections, which verify completed production at the yard, on the as-yet unnamed hull 802.
The report also details around £64.2m has been spent on hull 801 since Ferguson Marine was nationalised in 2019, with a further £30.8m spent on hull 802.
Scottish Conservative transport spokesperson Graham Simpson said: “Now CMAL says there is a ‘serious risk’ to the delivery of the hugely over-budget ferries that were commissioned more than five years ago. And they are still running behind schedule.
“It may be disappointing, but it’s hardly a surprise.
"The SNP’s handling of this whole business has been abysmal from the start. Huge sums of public money have been wasted, and islanders have been left without their most important service, thanks to a series of inept decisions by ministers.”
Scottish Labour’s transport spokesperson Neil Bibby called for the end of “buck-passing” by ministers. He urged First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to take “direct ministerial responsibility for delivery”, and said it would be “time up” for those in government if the delivery dates were not met.
Mr Bibby said: “I have spoken to business owners on Arran this summer about their real concerns over the future of the island economy following Covid, the cost-of-living emergency and the existing ferries fiasco. They will greet this latest development with nothing short of despair.
“SNP ministers unveiled the latest timetable and cost less than six months ago. If there is any suggestion that the timetabling and costs that was outlined to Parliament are not to be met, then it will be time up for those ministers.
"This fiasco has dragged on long enough before any more delays. Islanders have already been waiting years while taxpayers have picked up the tab for millions of pounds of overruns.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “CMAL recently made clear that it is confident that outstanding issues can and will be rectified and the vessels completed to enter service.
“Installation of cabling is behind schedule. The yard’s senior management team is monitoring progress and is in regular discussion with its cabling contractor to rectify this issue as swiftly as possible.
“The Scottish Government has been clear on its expectations from Ferguson Marine around delivery of the vessels and making the business competitive.”
A CMAL spokesperson said: “There has been a significant milestone this month with the MV Glen Sannox returning to the yard following a scheduled three-week drydocking at Dale’s Marine.
"While the installation of cabling is behind schedule, the yard’s senior management team is monitoring progress and is in regular discussion with its cabling contractor to rectify this issue as swiftly as possible.
"We are confident that outstanding issues can and will be rectified, and both vessels will be completed to enter service.”
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