Sturgeon’s finance chief was warned ferry chaos ‘likely to pull government down’

Scotland: Labour MSP slams Nicola Sturgeon for ferry chaos

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Kate Forbes has told MSPs that two government-commissioned ferries being built at the nationalised shipyard would be delayed yet again. It comes after Scots shipbuilding boss Stuart Ballantyne, chairman of Australia-based Sea Transport Solutions, offered to take over the Ferguson Marine yard in Port Glasgow.

Scotland’s First Minister was subject to renewed attacks over the mess this week with two CalMac vessels now more than five years late and costing at least £240 million. The final price tag could be as high as £400m, although Ms Sturgeon has disputed that figure.

This week, it emerged Mr Ballantyne wrote to Ms Forbes within days of her being parachuted in to replace Derek Mackay as finance secretary in 2020.

His letter says: “We can design and build ferries in a UK yard appropriate to Caledonian MacBrayne’s requirements to operate to existing terminals for less than a quarter of that sum [£100m] while at least halving the operating cost per unit.

“There is no reason why such vessels could not be built on a production basis at Fergusons assuming efficient management.”

He admitted to feeling astonished at the decision to press ahead with the construction given the “intrinsic unsuitability” of the vessels “for the services to which they are intended; the significant additional cost of bringing them into service and their anticipated extremely high operating costs”.

Mr Ballantyne said there was no reason why Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) needed to own all the ships and terminals on Scotland’s west coast.

He suggested instead a “more cost effective ship leasing arrangement”.

Mr Ballantyne’s letter concludes: “We at Sea Transport Solutions would be more than happy to work in partnership to offer such a service and in so doing effect a step-change in productivity so as to markedly improve frequency and capacity of Clyde and Hebrides ferry services while significantly reducing the annual cost to the Scottish exchequer.

“The present system is a disgrace, likely to pull your Government down.”

A copy of the letter was made public on the Yours For Scotland blog run by former SNP transport and industry spokesman Iain Lawson, who was a founder member of the rival Alba Party.

He wrote: “My view is this should be a resignation matter. Hundreds of millions of pounds have been squandered by these incompetents.

“Dr Stuart Ballantyne is a Scot, who is a world expert on Ferries and is the Chairman of Sea Transport Solutions, a company responsible for the design of over 100 ferries operating successfully in over 47 different administrations all over the World.

“He holds an Honorary Degree from the University of Strathclyde. Amazingly Dr Ballantyne did not receive even the courtesy of a reply.”

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Ferguson Marine was awarded the contract for two vessels in 2015, but recent cost estimates by Audit Scotland have put their price at more than £240 million – two-and-a-half times the original £97.5 million quote.

The original agreement was reportedly made without a refund guarantee which would have protected public money.

A damning report by Audit Scotland said there was no paper trail explaining why the contract was signed off without the clause in place.

The Scottish Government-owned ferry procurer CMAL also raised concerns over the lack of guarantee.

Grilled by Scottish Tory leader, Douglas Ross, this week, Ms Sturgeon would not say if she considered the contract to be a bad deal.

She did say that such agreements would not be repeated.

The First Minister added: “Our focus now is on ensuring these ferries are completed in the interest of our island communities and also on ensuring that Ferguson shipyard, and all those who work in it, have a bright future.

“We will learn lessons from this – I’ve said several times today I deeply regret the experience of this.”

The Scottish Tory leader said the yard has become iconic but for all the wrong reasons.

Ms Sturgeon emphasised her deep regret for the delays and cost overruns, but insisted that, had the contract not been signed, jobs at the Government-backed yard would be at risk.

She said: “I still believe the Scottish Government was right to do everything to save Ferguson’s shipyard.

“But for those decisions, Ferguson’s shipyard would not still be employing significant numbers of people as it is today.

“Douglas Ross may well take different views on this, but I do think it was right for the Scottish Government to protect and save jobs and protect that shipyard.”

Mr Ross replied: “The deal that [the First Minister] is so proud of has become a disaster.”

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