Call for Nicola Sturgeon responds as Jim McColl says she rushed into Ferguson Marine deal for political gain

NICOLA Sturgeon has been asked for answers to MSPs after a shipyard tycoon says she rushed the controversial ferry fiasco contract without normal checks because the SNP wanted to announce it at a conference on left.

Jim McColl said ministers moved quickly so the contract for two new CalMac ships with his shipyard firm Ferguson Marine could be announced at their autumn conference in October 2015.

Auditors of Public Expenditure said ministers approved the disastrous ferry deal despite being warned it carried ‘significant risks’ for taxpayers.

And he said he believed the decision to rescind the expert advice and sign the contract was made by the Prime Minister with then Transport Minister Derek Mackay.

The Scottish Conservatives called on the Prime Minister to appear in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday to address what they called Mr McColl’s ‘extraordinary claims’.

Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL), the state-controlled company that owns and buys CalMac’s ferries, wanted out of the contract weeks after Ferguson Marine was named the preferred bidder.

The contract for Glen Sannox – and an unnamed vessel known as Hull 802 – was awarded in 2015, a year after businessman Jim McColl stepped in to save Ferguson, the last commercial shipyard on the river Clyde.

The first ship was due to enter service on the Arran route in the summer of 2018 but is not expected to be ready until next year at the earliest. Hull 802, intended for an Outer Hebrides route, followed the same path. The latest estimated cost for the two vessels is around a quarter of a billion pounds, out of a fixed contract price of £97 million.

Mr McColl previously accused Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon of publicly announcing the contract before a price had been agreed and told the Herald the SNP wanted political capital out of it. He also said he believed he was a ‘pawn’ in the Scottish Government’s attempts to save the yard and, while denying cronyism, that he had been awarded the contract because of his relationship with the former SNP leader , Alex Salmond, and that the SNP government had favored the site. , and not him personally.

READ MORE: Jim McColl: ‘I was a Scottish government pawn in the Ferguson Marine ferry fiasco’

SNP ministers have come under constant criticism over the award of the ships contract after it emerged that Ferguson Marine submitted the most expensive bid for the work at six competing yards but won with the highest specifications and quality.

Mr McColl doubled down on his criticism of ministers saying they acted hastily on awarding the ferry contract so it could be announced at their autumn conference in October 2015.

He said: “The audit report revealed that we received the contract for political purposes. It was all a matter of optics and timing for announcements for political purposes.”

Scottish Tories say Jim McColl’s latest comments imply the First Minister misled the Scottish Parliament by stating that Mr Mackay was the minister responsible for transport.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “Jim McColl has made some extraordinary comments which the Prime Minister herself must respond to immediately.

“It’s the least the Scottish public deserves when there are credible claims that £250m of taxpayers’ money has been wasted on political ends.

“It becomes clear why Audit Scotland could find no evidence to support the government’s decision to accept this contract against expert advice. The decision appears to have been made for political purposes, not the benefit taxpayers or island communities who desperately need these ferries.

“From what Mr McColl said, the Prime Minister has some serious questions to answer. On Thursday she tried to say that this scandal was entirely Derek Mackay’s fault, but there is mounting evidence that she may have misled Parliament by making this assertion.

“We are giving Nicola Sturgeon every opportunity to respond to these shocking accusations. There is no excuse for ducking responsibility and hiding from scrutiny. She is due to appear before the Scottish Parliament at our next sitting on Tuesday to say to the public how and why their money was lost.”

During Prime Minister’s Questions on Thursday, Ms Sturgeon said she ‘did not provide information’ about the identity of the minister who gave the green light to the contract.

But she added: ‘It is common knowledge who the Minister for Transport was at the time of the decision; it is common knowledge that it was Derek Mackay.

And she went on to say, “This government operates by collective responsibility and I am ultimately responsible for all decisions the government makes. The responsibility lies with me.”

When told about ‘throwing Mr Mackay under the bus’, she added: ‘I had no intention of coming here and doing anything other than accepting full responsibility.’

Giving evidence to MSPs at Holyrood more than two years ago, Mr McColl said he was ‘stuck’ with a cut-price contract for two ferries after Nicola Sturgeon announced it prematurely.

The tycoon behind Ferguson Marine said the Prime Minister had publicly put a price tag of £97million on the pair of passenger ships while his company was asking for £105million.

Mr McColl then alleged that his company had been told by CMAL, the buyer of the two vessels, that there was no further room for negotiation as the contract had been announced.

He added that after making the announcement in August 2015, he was told “you’ll just have to accept it” and that he had no choice but to agree to deliver the ships. at the lowest price.

Announcing that Mr McColl’s Ferguson Marine has been awarded the contract, the Prime Minister said: “This is an excellent achievement for Ferguson Marine Engineering Limited and I am delighted to appoint them as the preferred bidder for the contract to build two new ferries, the largest commercial vessels to be built on the Clyde since 2001.


“This contract will retain all 150 employees and hire more staff at the shipyard, underlining our commitment to creating the vital jobs needed to boost local economies and help drive growth across Scotland.

“The Scottish Government is committed to supporting ferry users across Scotland by providing safe and reliable services, and this is the final step to ensure we have a fleet that continues to meet the needs of communities that depend on it.”

But Mr McColl says he was ‘ripped off’ by the government and called for a public inquiry into the ferry fiasco scandal, with witnesses placed ‘under oath’.

Ministers carried out a takeover after Ferguson Marine, led by Jim McColl, took office in August 2019 following a dispute with CMAL over rising costs and “unforeseen complexities” over the ferry project.

Ministers believe they acted in the public interest in taking control of Ferguson Marine as it saved the yard from closure, saved more than 300 jobs and ensured the two ships under construction will be completed.

READ MORE: Ministers pour £45m of taxpayers’ money into Ferguson Marine despite ‘lack of due diligence’

Over the weekend it emerged that Mr Mackay, who would continue to oversee the yard’s nationalization plan, was on holiday when the ferry contract was given the green light and it was Keith Brown, who is in charge both deputy head of the SNP and secretary for justice. in Ms Sturgeon’s Cabinet, was asked to endorse it in August 2015. At the time, he was Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Investments and Cities.

News of the contract award was given to SNP conference delegates on October 16, two months after the Ferguson Marine was declared the Prime Minister’s preferred bidder.

Audit Scotland said last week ministers had awarded the CalMac ferry contract to Ferguson Marine despite ‘serious doubts’ from their shipowners and initial concerns about the yard’s inability to provide financial guarantees.


The auditors’ investigation found the Scottish Government was unable to provide documentary evidence as to why the decision was made.

He said ministers approved the award of the contract to Ferguson Marine in 2015 despite the shipyard’s inability to provide “mandatory reimbursement guarantees” for the financial risk to CMAL.

He criticized a “multitude of failures” in the delivery of Glen Sannox and Hull 802 which are now more than five years behind schedule.

Mr McColl said he had made it clear to the government and CMAL that he could not provide the mandatory money back guarantee for the contract.

He told the Sunday Times: “There is no doubt in my mind that the decision to ignore this and overturn the CMAL advice was taken by the Prime Minister together with Derek Mackay.

“The audit report clearly indicates that changes are still being made to the design and that hostility has continued between CMAL and the new management, so the cost will continue to increase.

“I think the 801 ferry should be finished, but it will now cost more to complete the 802 than to replace it with a new ferry, so there is a strong case for not continuing it in its current form. I watertight it, launch it and sell the hull.

Humza Yousaf, a former transport and islands minister, said the government took the decision to secure the yard to save hundreds of jobs.

Asked if Ms Sturgeon would bring up the issue at Holyrood, he said: “I have never seen the Prime Minister waver in Parliament.

“She of course answered a significant number of questions on Thursday [at First Minister’s Questions]so what parliament chooses to do and whom it chooses to call is up to parliament.”

A Scottish government spokesperson said it “operates under collective responsibility and remains focused on the delivery of ferries by Ferguson Marine”.

He said his actions helped secure jobs at the last remaining commercial shipbuilder on the Clyde.

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