Scottish ferries scandal: Source of key plagiarised document in 'rigged' ferry contract named

Officials have blamed a marine consultancy firm for passing to Ferguson Marine a key document central to accusations a contract for two ferries was ‘rigged’ in favour of the shipyard.

Houlder Ltd was named as the source of the 424-page document for the shipyard in internal correspondence, obtained by The Scotsman, between the Scottish Government and the nationalised yard. Ferry procurement body CMAL, which also worked with the company, didn’t deny Houlder was the source and failed to say whether contract confidentiality terms were breached.

It comes after a BBC Disclosure documentary revealed the document, which 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. The yard went on to heavily plagiarise the document, copying and pasting around 90 per cent of it, for its contract bid.

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This will have given the yard a significant advantage in the procurement process given other shipyards had to rely on a narrower, 125-page technical specification. However, officials at the shipyard claimed the yard having the document “could be a disadvantage”, adding: “FMEL had more info than was being requested by CMAL and thus risked bidding/pricing stuff that CMAL didn’t require.”

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The document had initially been developed by another design firm for CalMac when it became clear new ferries would be ordered, before being handed to ferry procurement body CMAL. For the procurement process, CMAL hired Wartsila, which sub-contracted work to Houlder Ltd to help with the tendering process. The company states it worked with Ferguson Marine “to support them with development, the tendering design, and technical documentation” during the full tendering process. They were later appointed by Ferguson Marine as naval architects for the “basic design”, with that work ongoing as the ships were built.

The Glen Sannox and the unnamed hull 802 are now six years late and more than three times over budget. Ferguson Marine entered administration and was nationalised by the Scottish Government in 2019, allowing ministers to take ownership of the vessels. The scandal has dogged SNP ministers for years as costs mount and timescales for delivery continue to slip.

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CMAL claimed it had “no role” in the appointment or relationship between Ferguson Marine and Houlder, but refused to answer whether it recognised the similarity between Ferguson’s bid and the technical specification it had received from CalMac. It also refused to answer why the procurement process was not stopped once the similarities were picked up by evaluators of the bids.

A spokesperson for CMAL said: “A number of external consultants were involved to various degrees in the preparation of the statement of technical requirements (SOTR) and the invitation to tender (ITT) package. The SOTR was prepared by ferry operator CalMac. CMAL used the SOTR to undertake a concept design with external consultant Wartsila, one of the leading companies in developing dual fuel propulsion packages.

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Ferguson Marine has still yet to finish the two vessels it won the contract for in 2015.

“Bidding shipyards have in-house capability to complete ITTs or use external naval architects – this is standard practice. FMEL hired Houlder in a consultancy capacity to assist in the completion of its bid. CMAL had no role in this relationship or appointment.”

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Transport Scotland has not contacted Houlder since 2014, with the agency directing enquiries to CMAL. Ferguson Marine (Port Glasgow) said it could not comment on arrangements prior to nationalisation due to a lack of information. A spokesperson said: “There are a limited number of specialists in dual fuel systems in the global shipbuilding industry, so it would not be surprising for a design consultant to work with ferry operator and shipbuilder. Information sharing arrangements would usually be covered by contract terms.”

Houlder Ltd said it was unable to provide any comment in relation to any project.

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