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By Hugh Boag
The man in charge of Scotland’s purse strings has admitted he has no idea when the MV Glen Sannox will come into service on the Arran route – or if it ever will.
A scathing report by Auditor General Stephen Boyle has set out ‘a multitude of failings’ in the delivery of two ferries for CalMac from the Ferguson Marine yard in Port Glasgow which are now almost four years late, with no certainty when they will be complete.
‘And crucially, communities still don’t have the lifeline ferries they were promised years ago,’ he said.
Audit Scotland’s report on the delivery of the two vessels being built – the MV Glen Sannox and Hull 802 – says they will now cost at least £240 million, two-and-a-half times their original price.
Construction of the dual-fuel ferries, the first of which will serve Arran on the Ardrossan to Brodick crossing, has been plagued with setbacks since they were first ordered in 2015.
The shipyard in Port Glasgow was taken over by the government in 2019 but the auditors say ‘significant operational failures’ at the yard remain unresolved.
Given that it is widely expected that it will be at least 2023 before the MV Glen Sannox is ready, it has led to growing concerns this week as to whether the ferry will ever come into service at all.
In his latest report published on Wednesday, and widely reported in the national press, Mr Boyle says: ‘The failure to deliver these two ferries, on time and on budget, exposes a multitude of failings.
‘A lack of transparent decision-making, a lack of project oversight and no clear understanding of what significant sums of public money have achieved.
‘The focus now must be on overcoming significant challenges at the shipyard and completing the vessels as quickly as possible.
‘Thoughts must then turn to learning lessons to prevent a repeat of problems on future new vessel projects and other public sector infrastructure projects.’
The report also revealed that as recently as January there were still 175 technical, safety or quality issues to be resolved – including some that could prevent the issuing of a passenger safety certificate by regulators.
MSPs will learn later this month how a recently-discovered problem with cabling on the MV Glen Sannox will affect the completion dates and costs.
The report states: ‘Major problems remain unresolved at the shipyard constructing two lifeline ferries for Scottish islands. More than two years after the Scottish government took over control of the shipyard, significant operational failures still need to be fully resolved and further remedial work on the vessels continues to be uncovered.
‘The project has been beset with delays and spiralling costs. The ferries are now almost four years late, with no certainty on when they will be complete.
‘The total cost of the project is currently estimated to be at least £240 million, around two and a half times the original contract price.
‘These issues have frustrated island communities and weakened resilience across Scotland’s ferry network.
‘Scottish ministers approved the contract award to Ferguson Marine Engineering Limited (FMEL) in October 2015, despite significant risks caused by FMEL’s inability to provide mandatory refund guarantees and the severe misgivings of Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL). There is insufficient evidence to explain why Scottish ministers made this decision.
‘As the project progressed, delays, costs, and a contract dispute between CMAL and FMEL, escalated.
‘Despite CMAL and the Scottish Government intervening to support the project, FMEL entered administration in August 2019, with the Scottish Government bringing the shipyard into public ownership.’
Responding to the report, finance secretary Kate Forbes said the decision to take Ferguson Marine into public ownership remains the correct one.
She said: ‘Not only did our efforts save the last commercial shipyard on the Clyde from closure, we directly rescued more than 300 jobs and ensured that the two vessels – which are vital for our island communities – will be delivered.
‘There is no doubt that getting the vessels completed has been extremely challenging but let me be absolutely clear, these vessels must be delivered as soon as possible.
‘There can be no ifs or buts when it comes to lifeline services for our island communities.
‘I have made that expectation absolutely clear to the Ferguson Marine leadership and board, and we will continue to work closely with the yard to ensure the vessels enter service as soon as possible.
‘The procurement process for vessels 801 and 802 was undertaken thoroughly, in good faith and following appropriate due diligence, and suggestions to the contrary are wrong.’
Liberal Democrat MSP Willie Rennie said: ‘This report places the blame for seven years of ferry failures squarely in the hands of SNP ministers.
‘Island communities are being left all at sea by the failure to deliver new vessels. Their economies are suffering.’
The MV Glen Sannox under construction behind the new shipbuilders sculpture which is nearing completion in Port Glasgow. NO_B12statue01
Audior General Stephen Boyle. NO_B12statue02