Scottish election 2021: Government minister refuses to defend ferry contract 'fiasco' on Scotsman hustings

Children’s minister Maree Todd has refused to defend the scandal of the Scottish Government’s £100 million ferry contract with the Ferguson Marine shipyard.

The MSP, who is standing in the Caithness, Sutherland and Ross seat, was challenged by other Highlands and Islands candidates in The Scotsman virtual election hustings over the “catastrophic mismanagement" of the ferry services and the failure to have two new CalMac vessels completed.

The two ships for the main Arran and Skye-North Uist routes, which will cost more than twice as much as planned and be finished four years late, are being built at the Clyde yard – the last yard in Scotland still handling non-defence orders, which was nationalised in 2019 after going into administration.

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Scottish Conservative Edward Mountain said the “fiasco” was a “disgrace which had seen a £97m contract had rapidly transformed into a £250m contract”.

Highland and Islands list MSP Maree ToddHighland and Islands list MSP Maree Todd
Highland and Islands list MSP Maree Todd

Scottish Liberal Democrat candidate Alan Reid said the “complete and utter scandal” should lead to a “more flexible attitude to acquiring ferries”, including allowing communities to buy new vessels on the open market rather than waiting for them to be built in Scotland.

Independent Andy Wightman said there had been a “woeful lack of investment” in the “lifeline services” as well as “ineffective management of procurement”, while Ariane Burgess of the Scottish Greens called for investment in “green ferries” to be equivalent to that in rail.

Labour’s Rhoda Grant said responsibility for the “fiasco” lay “at the door of the SNP government”. She said: “It’s not a lack of investment, but about the money wasted on two boats which may never leave a dry dock in Glasgow. For that money we could have had several new ferries, but we’ve got nothing.”

However, Ms Todd defended the government’s investment in ferries, although she added: “I’m not going to defend all the criticisms which have been publicly aired many times before on the ferry contract in Ferguson yard.

"But I think we should have our own manufacturing and shipbuilding industry. Those jobs were worth saving and I don't think we should be going elsewhere we should be building them in Scotland.”

She said: “I think we have to transition to sustainable ferries, to reduce the carbon footprint, which requires us to innovate. We’ve committed to 30 per cent of state owned ferries being low emission by 2032 and we’re making progress on that.

“Since 2007 we’ve invested over £291m in new lifeline ferries throughout Scotland and £119m in ports and harbours in supporting ferry infrastructure. The road equivalent tariff has been momentous in reducing fares and making it less expensive to get to islands and we’re committed to continuing to reduce the burden of costs.”

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Ferguson’s was nationalised in a deal struck by disgraced former finance minister Derek Mackay.

Former owner Jim McColl, the Monaco-based billionaire who took charge of the shipyard in 2014, has been critical of how the Scottish Government handled the situation. He has said ministers rejected a shared ownership rescue package although it could have saved taxpayers £120m.

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