Call for public inquiry into ferries CalMac didn’t want

Jim McColl giving evidence to the inquiry at Holyrood last week. Photo BBC Scotland

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The Scottish government inquiry into the ferry fiasco which has left Arran without a new ferry heard more evidence last week.

The former director of Ferguson Marine told MSPs that the ferries would be sailing already if the company had been dealing with CalMac rather than CMAL (Caledonian Martime Assets Ltd), the government agency which ordered the ships.

Jim McColl was giving evidence to Holyrood’s rural economy committee which is investigating the failure of the yard to complete the MV Glen Sannox and Hull 802 on time and on budget.

He said claims the project was badly managed were grossly misleading and that CMAL had refused mediation.

The industrialist also called for a public inquiry, accusing CMAL of being ‘the elephant in the room’.

The two CalMac ferries are £100m over budget and likely to be three years overdue.

The committee also heard claims from Mr McColl, who took over Ferguson’s in 2014, that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced the details of the ferry contract, including the cost of the vessels, before it had been agreed.

The Ferguson shipyard won the £97m contract to build two new ferries in 2015 when, the now disgraced, former finance minister Derek Mackay was transport minister. He is still due to give evidence to the inquiry, but given the uncertainty surrounding his position, it is unclear if he will ever do so.

But Mr McColl said the problems were caused by CMAL ‘chopping and changing’ the ferry design, and said a public inquiry was needed to get to the truth.

He said Ferguson’s was initially pushing for a price of £105m for both ships, but Ms Sturgeon made the award public before the final price was agreed – saying they would cost around £97m.

He added: ‘Before we agreed the negotiation the first minister had announced that we had been selected as preferred bidders and the price was £97m.

‘CMAL then came back to us and said “it’s been announced by the first minister, you’ll just have to accept it”.’

Calling for a public inquiry, he said: ‘This needs a lot more investigation.

‘The reason that I would like it to go to a public inquiry is I would like there to be a judge and I would like people to be under oath.’

The yard collapsed last year, with debts of £49m to the Scottish government, and was eventually taken into public ownership.

It also emerged at the inquiry that CalMac did not even want the two new Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) ferries which are being built.

The claim was made by maritime procurement expert Luke van Beek who said: ‘CalMac had a huge interest in getting the ships operational as soon as possible – that is why I thought it was sensible to get them involved.

‘I was very surprised when I met with the CEO of CalMac to discover that really they weren’t involved apart from right at the beginning of the process. They made some observations and had said they didn’t want LNG ships.’

Mr van Beek who was brought in by the Scottish government to advise on problems with the project,and  told the committee there had been a breakdown in communication between the various parties who were involved.

He said the shipyard was well run, but there was acrimony between Ferguson Marine and CMAL because the basic design of the vessels had not been agreed and was too vague when the contract was first awarded.

Mr van Beek said there was blame on all sides for the project being delayed and over-budget.

The inquiry is due to hear evidence from CMAL representatives later this month, with Mr Mackay due to give evidence next month.


Jim McColl giving evidence to the inquiry at Holyrood last week. Photo BBC Scotland NO_B07mccoll01