Scotland ferries scandal: Nicola Sturgeon should have known about the 'urgency' of Ferguson Marine situation, claims Jim McColl

Nicola Sturgeon should have been aware of the impending “crisis” around the construction of two ferries five-and-a-half years ago, the former owner of Ferguson Marine shipyard has claimed.

In a submission to the Scottish Parliament’s public audit committee, pro-independence tycoon Jim McColl also accused the Scottish Government of misleading Parliament, the Auditor General and the public over the nature of the contract.

Mr McColl, who rescued the yard in 2014 during the independence referendum campaign after an intervention by then first minister Alex Salmond, was responding to Ms Sturgeon’s evidence to the same committee earlier this month.

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The furious dispute between the two has escalated in recent months as both attempt to escape blame for the delay to the construction of two ferries intended for the Clyde and Hebrides network. Hull 801, named the Glen Sannox, and Hull 802 will now cost more than £300 million and be delivered at least six years late.

They were initially costed at £97m when the contract was signed with Ferguson Marine in 2015. That contract award by ferry infrastructure body CMAL has faced accusations of being “rigged” in favour of the Port Glasgow yard, while workers have blamed the ownership of Mr McColl for destroying their shipyard.

In his evidence to MSPs, Mr McColl said the First Minister should have known the scale of the problems facing the yard following a meeting in May 2017. Ms Sturgeon faces accusations she breached the ministerial code around the meeting due to the apparent lack of minutes.

The businessman said: “The First Minister said she did not go into it thinking it was a great crisis meeting, nor did she come out of it thinking it was. The fact that I had to appeal to the First Minister directly was an indication that it was a very serious situation.

"I communicated that clearly to her at the meeting. She could have been in no doubt about the urgency of the situation and that if we did not do something ,it would become a crisis.

Jim McColl has attacked Nicola Sturgeon over the ferries fiasco.

“The minutes of the meeting will reveal the seriousness of the discussion.”

Mr McColl also accused CMAL of misleading the Government, as well as ministers of misleading Parliament by repeating the claim the contract was “fixed price”. A standard new-build BIMCO contract such as the one signed by McColl and the Government does allow for price changes subject to various conditions and expert mediation.

Mr McColl told MSPs: “The CMAL board misled the Government by repeatedly claiming that the contract was a fixed price contract. A simple review of the contract would have exposed this claim to be false. The Government have misled Parliament, the Auditor General and the public by claiming that the contract was a fixed price contract.”

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He added that a “fear of confronting” CMAL was the main reason why the Government failed to prevent what he labelled a “catastrophic mess”. The businessman said the “real issues” of why the contract failed were the original CMAL specification, their handling of the contract, and the Government’s handling of the dispute between CMAL and FMEL, attacking its refusal to engage in expert determination.

Scottish Conservative shadow transport minister Graham Simpson said: “Jim McColl’s claims that the SNP Government wasted £200m and misled Parliament about whether there was a fixed price contract are damning indictments of a government with its eye off the ball. It’s now up to the SNP to explain why they did not think an independent expert opinion was worth exploring.

“We already knew SNP mismanagement has needlessly cost the public hundreds of millions with no delivery, but these staggering revelations make it clear just how negligent they have been.

“Mr McColl says that the First Minister can have been in no doubt about the urgency of the situation when he approached her. We should immediately see the minutes of that meeting, to clear up this murky business.

“This also underlines yet again the need for a full independent public inquiry into the ferries scandal so that betrayed island communities and Scottish taxpayers get the answers they deserve.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The First Minister stands by the evidence and the follow-up information requested by the committee will be provided in due course.

"The Scottish Government’s priorities have always been the completion of the two ferries, securing a future for the yard and its workforce, and supporting our island communities that rely on this type of vessel on a daily basis.”

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