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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)

Meeting date: Wednesday, May 11, 2022


Ferry Problems

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Annabelle Ewing)

The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-04319, in the name of Graham Simpson, on ferry problems. I invite members who wish to speak to press their request-to-speak button now, please.


Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)

We wanted to call this debate “Ferries Fiasco”, but parliamentary staff told us that we could not. The debate might not be called “Ferries Fiasco” in the Business Bulletin, but that is what it is about.

The Scottish Conservatives used our previous debating time to talk about ferries. Had anything changed since then, we could have gone on to something else. However, we still do not know why the Scottish National Party Government awarded the contract to build vessels 801 and 802 to Ferguson Marine Engineering Ltd against the advice of its in-house experts and despite its posting hundreds of documents. We have had the very sad sight of the United Kingdom forces hero Keith Brown beating a hasty retreat from Her Majesty’s press the other week, sidestepping their battle lines to slink into the cover of the Scottish Parliament canteen.

Mr Brown later gave a less than satisfactory interview with Channel 4 news, in which he said:

“That document, the one that signed it off, if it ever existed, is not now available but it was quite clear from associated documents that it was approved and approved by the minister for transport.”

Work that one out: a document—“if it ever existed”—that signed off the decision. Perhaps the minister can tell us now whether the document that Mr Brown referred to existed.

The silence speaks volumes, Presiding Officer. Mr Brown remembered the script after that and again blamed Derek Mackay, who, at the time of the decision, was the lowly Minister for Transport and Islands, and Mr Brown was his boss. The idea that Derek would not to talk to Keith, who would not talk to John, who signed the cheques, who would not run it past Nicola, is preposterous, particularly when the SNP had an announcement to make at its conference. Derek, Keith, John and Nicola: the Ferries Four—a very dodgy group with no hits to its name.

There is a real and enduring stench of cover-up. The SNP’s secrecy is appalling and corrupt. We do not know why the yard got the contract, but it did. Nicola Sturgeon says that the Government saved the jobs at the yard. The yard could have continued if it had not been given that ill-fated contract. There is no reason to think otherwise.

Does the member know of any business that would exist without work being given to it?

Graham Simpson

The yard had work—that is a fact. I believe, and Jim McColl believes, that the yard could have continued. We can be pretty certain that the yard will not take on anything of that scale again, whatever the future holds. However, we do not know what the future holds for the yard, because the Government cannot make up its mind.

Will the member take an intervention?

I will take an intervention from Mr McKee because he never gives us any answers to questions.

Indeed I do, as the member knows fine well. If he is so sure that there was work in the yard, will he please specify what that work was?

There was work at the yard.

What was it?

Graham Simpson

There was work at the yard. It had work and it could have taken on more work.

Presiding Officer, the debate has moved on a little since we last discussed the issue in Parliament; I must be fair about that. For example, we have discovered that the FMEL deal might have breached European state aid rules because the Government did not tell the European Union about an incentive of around £106 million to ensure that the work went to Ferguson’s.

We know that figures such as the hugely respected Jim Sillars and the former First Minister Jack McConnell believe that the failure to come clean on the decision-making process might have broken the law on several fronts.

We also know that only one in five Scots think that the SNP is doing a good job of running ferry services. Those one in five people need to get out more if they think that, because most do not share that view.

We have discovered another thing, too. Stewart Hosie thinks that ferries 801 and 802 are “a little late” and that money has not been wasted. Five years and more than 2.5 times over budget sounds more than “a little late”, and it certainly sounds like waste to me. It is that sort of attitude that has got us to where we are.

Will the member give way?

Graham Simpson

I will not take any more interventions.

It is little wonder that the good people of Arran elected a Conservative councillor—Timothy Billings—last week. Islanders such as those on Arran are the most important people in all this. They are the ones who cannot get to hospital or to work, cannot get deliveries, cannot see family and friends, and, in some cases, cannot get to school, and all because we have an ageing and unreliable fleet on the west coast with no clear plan for renewing vessels. It does not matter to islanders who runs the ferries or where they are built; they just want them to be there.

Our motion mentions the 15 stage payments that were agreed for each vessel, and there could be more than that. It also talks about the lack of engagement with the experienced workforce, about which Edward Mountain will have much more to say.

I have been calling for the Minister for Transport to release the project Neptune report, which, we are led to believe, will set out options for how we might procure and run ferries. Jenny Gilruth said that she could not release it during the council election campaign. Well, that reason does not exist now, so she should publish it this week. Only then can we start to have a sensible conversation on this topic, which is what we need to have. We should not get bogged down in ideology. We should listen to the voices of islanders, such as those on the Mull and Iona Ferry Committee. They have been making some very good points about vessel design and how we should look at potentially breaking up the west coast contract into smaller chunks—which is not, as some believe, privatisation.

We will support the Labour amendment in the name of my good friend Neil Bibby. Unfortunately, the amendment in the name of my other very good friend, Jenny Gilruth, is, I am afraid, devoid of hope and we cannot support it. She should speak to me next time, and I can send her some of my positivity, because that is what the islanders of Scotland are looking out for, and it is not what they are getting.

I move,

That the Parliament believes that the way the Scottish Government has been running ferry services has been a scandal; calls on the Scottish Government to say why it awarded the contract for ferries 801 and 802 to Ferguson Marine Engineering Limited against the advice of its own experts; is concerned about why 15 stage payments were agreed for each ferry; notes concerns that the deal may have broken EU state aid rules; further notes concerns that the lack of documentary evidence to explain the contract award could be in breach of the law; is disappointed that the Scottish Government failed to listen to the experienced workforce who had concerns about the management of the yard; believes that the yard could have survived without the orders for vessels 801 and 802; agrees with the view of the majority of people in Scotland who think that the Scottish National Party administration has done a bad job of running ferries; is concerned that this will contribute to island depopulation, and calls on the Scottish Government to spell out how it plans to run and procure ferry services in the future.

I call the minister, Jenny Gilruth, to speak to and move amendment S6M-04391.2. You have up to six minutes, minister.


The Minister for Transport (Jenny Gilruth)

Talking to that positivity that Mr Simpson was seeking, I have some good news to share with Parliament. Indeed, I have that good news literally here in my hand. The missing documents have been found. Ministers were advised of this by officials shortly before noon today, and I wanted to take the first available opportunity to give Parliament the news.

The document is an email that makes clear who approved the decision to award the contract to build vessels 801 and 802 to Ferguson’s shipyard. Sent in response to the key submission on 8 October 2015, it is dated 9 October, at 14:32, and it reads:

“The Minister is content with the proposals and would like”


“to be moved on as quickly as possible please.”

The email was sent by the office of the Minister for Transport and Islands. I hold in my hand that irrefutable documentary evidence that the decision was made rightly and properly by the then transport minister, Derek Mackay.

Will the minister give way?

Jenny Gilruth

I would like to make some progress.

We said that we would continue to look in good faith, and that is exactly what we have done. The document was found because a copy of an email chain had been retained by someone in the Scottish Government finance department, because the then finance secretary was briefed on the decision. By chance, a copy of that email chain between two officials who left Government some years ago included the email from the transport minister’s private office and had been buried in someone’s electronic files.

The email confirms what we said that it would say. It is basically one line long, because that is how the system of Government works.

This documentation has been provided to the Auditor General and is being published as I speak, alongside all the other documents that we have already published relating to the matter, on the Government’s website.

Will the minister give way?

Jenny Gilruth

I would like to make some progress.

The e-mail destroys the Opposition’s ridiculous conspiracy theory that another minister made the decision, and it destroys the unfounded speculation that a ministerial direction was given.

I welcome this opportunity to discuss ferry issues again.

Graham Simpson

The e-mail that has just been read out does not say why the decision was taken, why the advice not to award the contract was ignored and whether there were discussions between Mr Mackay, Mr Brown, Mr Swinney and Ms Sturgeon, does it?

Jenny Gilruth

The information that pertains to the decision to award the contract, which Mr Simpson is searching for, has already been published. He has received answers to numerous topical questions, and the First Minister has answered numerous questions on the issue. The Opposition has to give up; it has an answer today. The Opposition may not take my word for it, but it needs to listen to the words of the voters in our island communities—they are the ones who want to see progress, and they are the ones who deserve a solution.

Our ferry network is as intrinsic to those who live on our mainland as roads are to the rest of us. They are islanders’ motorways, as I was told recently by the Shetland hauliers association. The Government has got to improve how we deliver ferry services, and we have to do that correctly.

Alasdair Allan (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP)

I welcome the fact that we are now turning to the subject of ferries and away from the conspiracy theories that we have listened to for the last few minutes from the Opposition.

The minister will appreciate that, in the past hour, CalMac has announced that the MV Lord of the Isles will be out of service from Tuesday 17 May for an estimated eight days due to a technical issue. Once again, that leaves Lochboisdale without a service to the mainland for a prolonged period of time, which adds to the already—

Excuse me, Dr Allan, please resume your seat. Dr Allan is trying to make an intervention and there is too much noise; please let Dr Allan make his intervention.

Alasdair Allan

The minister will be aware that this is not the first time that Lochboisdale has been without a service, and I know from conversations that I have had with her that she appreciates the frustration that is caused. Will she commit to raising the issue with CalMac as a matter of urgency, with a view to establishing an improvement plan specifically for Mallaig to help deal with the—

Excuse me, Dr Allan. Interventions should be brief. The minister probably gets the gist and can respond.

Jenny Gilruth

I became aware of the issues surrounding the MV Lord of the Isles vessel earlier today. I will meet with CalMac tonight; I believe that representatives of CalMac are attending a parliamentary reception, so I will raise it with them directly.

I want to move on to discuss some of the issues that we have faced more recently on the Isle of Arran, and how those were resolved productively by CalMac.

It is important that we move on. We owe it to our island communities to do better on the debate on ferries. We have to lift the tone. I was reminded of that last week during a call with the Arran ferry committee, during which we reflected on some of the lessons learned from the recent outage with the MV Caley Isles. Sheila Gilmore, the chief executive of VisitArran, has spoken of the reputational damage the outage caused; indeed, some news reports from the weekend when the outage began incorrectly said that all routes to Arran were off. Irrespective of party, all of us in the chamber must support the return of tourism to our island communities, which will, of course, be vital to many businesses and families in 2022.

I have already been absolutely clear that communities are not currently always getting the service that they need, and that needs to change, but I suggest that they do not need the Opposition’s version of “Groundhog Day” either. Our island communities need accurate, fair and well-informed commentary and debate about the challenges but also the opportunities for their economies and communities. Ferries and resilient transport connectivity are key to ensuring that Scotland’s islands thrive and flourish, and I am determined to do all that I can to make that happen, as is everyone in the Scottish Government. I hope the Opposition will join me in that endeavour.

I move amendment S6M-04319.2, to leave out from “the way the” to end and insert:

“ferry services provide an essential lifeline to island and remote rural communities and their economies; acknowledges that the delays and cost overruns to vessels 801 and 802 are regrettable; notes the findings of the Audit Scotland report, that all of its recommendations have been accepted, and that improvements, including changes to procurement practices, have already been made; recognises the progress that is being made at Ferguson Marine under the recently appointed chief executive, including the milestone reached at the end of April 2022 with the fitting of Hull 802’s bow unit, with both dual fuel vessels being scheduled for delivery in 2023; further recognises the role that Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd is playing in that progress, not least through the involvement of an experienced secondee in Ferguson Marine’s senior management team, and welcomes that the Scottish Government saved Ferguson Marine, the last commercial shipyard on the Clyde, from closure, rescuing more than 300 jobs, with over 400 people currently employed at the yard, and ensuring that two new ferry vessels will be delivered to maintain and enhance connectivity to Scotland’s islands.”.

I call Neil Bibby to speak to and move amendment S6M-4319.1.


Neil Bibby (West Scotland) (Lab)

I welcome the debate that Graham Simpson has brought forward today.

Today, Scottish Labour is making a further call for full openness and transparency to get to the bottom of Scotland’s ferry fiasco. A parliamentary committee has already branded the procurement of vessels 801 and 802 a “catastrophic failure”. Audit Scotland outlined a multitude of failings that led to delays of four years and a procurement budget that is now two and a half times the original contract price.

We still do not have clear answers about what went wrong and, crucially, why. That is not acceptable. If the concerns of the workforce at Ferguson’s had been addressed sooner, perhaps the yard would be in a better position now.

Will the member take an intervention?

Neil Bibby

Let me make some progress, please.

If that had happened, one of the biggest failures in public procurement in the past 20 years could have been avoided.

There are conflicting accounts of how we have ended up where we are today. The First Minister is right to ask us to treat the accounts of Jim McColl and the previous owners with caution. He is not, as she said in the chamber, a “disinterested” party—that is correct—but neither is the Scottish Government. The ferries were procured on its behalf by Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd. As I have said repeatedly, the First Minister is ultimately responsible for the Scottish Government. She should assume direct ministerial responsibility for the Government’s investments at Ferguson’s, for putting the yard on a stronger footing and for ensuring full transparency in relation to everything that has gone wrong.

Audit Scotland has said that there is insufficient documentary evidence to explain why the contract for the ferries was issued without a full refund guarantee. That remains astonishing and clearly requires further investigation. The minister has quoted from an email today that nobody in the chamber has seen before now.

I had not seen it before today.

The fact that the minister had not seen it before today—

Excuse me. There should not be sedentary comments, because they are not necessarily picked up in the Official Report.

Neil Bibby

The fact that the Minister for Transport is unearthing emails about the ferries fiasco only today begs the question what else the Scottish Government has not actually found in the archives. Crucially, we need to know why the Scottish Government ignored CMAL’s advice. Audit Scotland has said that there is no documentary evidence. The Parliament has still not seen any documentary evidence that shows why the Scottish Government ignored CMAL’s advice.

On the issue of full openness and transparency, a number of senior staff at Ferguson’s signed non-disclosure agreements. I note the First Minister’s remarks at First Minister’s question time, but let me say clearly that non-disclosure requirements should not prevent anyone from giving full and accurate evidence to Audit Scotland, to anybody else who is legitimately investigating the failures at Ferguson’s or to the Parliament.

Will the member take an intervention?

Yes. I would welcome confirmation from the cabinet secretary that she will support Labour’s amendment to waive the non-disclosure agreements.

Kate Forbes

I am keen to know whether Labour actually supports the workers at Ferguson’s. The GMB has absolutely blasted Labour for using them as a political football, eroding morale and undermining efforts to save the yard for the long term. Is the member proud of his efforts in that regard?

Neil Bibby

I respect what the GMB has to say. I always expect the GMB to stand up for its members. Stuart McMillan, the local MSP, has said that the workforce at Ferguson’s are embarrassed. They should not be embarrassed; they are blameless. The people who should be embarrassed are those in the Scottish Government who have overseen this fiasco.

The Scottish Government cannot selectively quote from the GMB on particular issues. The union and Scottish Labour have continuously made constructive suggestions about building simpler ferries, but those have fallen on deaf ears. We have made constructive suggestions about building the ferries in Scotland, not in Turkey, in order to protect Scottish shipbuilding jobs, but those suggestions have also fallen on deaf ears.

I hope that every member in the chamber will support Labour’s amendment—we will wait and see how the Government votes on it—which is vital to ensure that all non-disclosure agreements relating to the procurement of the ferries are waived. Non-disclosure agreements should not prevent anyone from making legitimate inquiries. We need openness and transparency; we cannot afford secrecy and cover-up. A vote for our amendment would be a vote for openness and transparency. A vote against it would be a vote for secrecy and cover-up.

Scrutiny of the decisions that have been taken over the past several years is necessary and unavoidable. A catastrophic failure in procurement of this kind must not happen again. Lessons need to be learned. Let me be clear again: the skilled workers at Ferguson’s are not to blame for the delays. The damage that the Government has done to the yard’s reputation—not the legitimate inquiries of auditors and the Parliament—has damaged the potential for Scottish shipbuilding. We owe it to the workforce to turn the situation around by securing new contracts for the yard and getting that sector of the economy firing on all cylinders again.

I represent the lower Clyde and many of the workers. I stand behind all those who want to breathe new life into the industry. That is why I, again, call for a national ferry building replacement programme to support the sector. Scottish Labour’s ambition is to modernise the CalMac fleet. New ferries, with a fair share being built in the lower Clyde, will bring resilience to our ferry network and create new opportunities for the workforce.

Those ferries do not need to be complex new designs such as the dual fuel ferries that Ferguson’s is now building. Simpler contracts for simpler ferries do not need to go overseas to places such as Turkey. We can create a pipeline of work that will see the lower Clyde getting its fair share—it just takes leadership from the Government.

Mr Bibby, you will need to bring your remarks to a close, please.

Neil Bibby


There must be openness and transparency. That also applies to the project Neptune report, which must be published without delay. I reiterate that the CalMac network must be retained as a public service, servicing the interests of the travelling public. There must be full disclosure if we are to turn the yard around.

Mr Bibby, please move the amendment in your name and close.

Neil Bibby

I move amendment S6M-04319.1, to insert at end:

“, and further calls on the Scottish Government to waive any non-disclosure requirements preventing public and parliamentary scrutiny of the procurement of vessels 801 and 802.”


Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

The minister obviously thinks that she has demolished all the arguments with her revelation today. For a start, we are expected to believe that she just discovered the email this morning, which is difficult to believe, when we bear in mind the Government’s track record on openness. She also expects us to believe that a multimillion-pound contract was given the go-ahead on the basis of a one-line email. That does not fill me with confidence. It certainly does not explain why the then minister ignored the central advice. With a multimillion-pound contract, we would expect the reasons why the advice was ignored to be set out.

Will the member take an intervention?

Willie Rennie

Not just now. I am trying to explain my argument.

The situation also shows a Government that is very poor at keeping records. We are talking about a multimillion-pound contract that cost a lot of money and, as we now know, islanders were dependent on its success.

The email does not fill members with confidence, as we heard from the laughter at the minister’s claims, and I think that it will raise an awful lot more questions. I want to see this email. I want to see the background and the paperwork that goes with it, because I simply do not believe that, at what just happens to be the last minute before a debate on the issue, a slam-dunk argument appears for the minister.

There is an element of Comical Ali about the SNP’s approach—as the bombs rain down around the SNP, the denial continues. As Graham Simpson set out, Stewart Hosie said yesterday that the ferries are a little bit late. They are four years late, and we are certain that it will be longer. Mr Hosie said that it is not waste that the project is £150 million over budget. Tell that to the islanders who are waiting yet again when ferries to multiple islands have broken down. Tell that to the families who are freezing at home because they cannot afford to pay their electricity bills. The Government has put £10 million into the fuel insecurity fund, but just imagine what a difference we could make if we added £150 million to that budget. To the SNP, it does not matter—it is not waste, and the ferries are a little bit late.

The SNP needs to accept that it has made fundamental errors that are having a direct impact on people’s lives right now, rather than keep on with the denial and reveal emails at the last minute before debates. That is not the way to run a Government, and it is a sign of a Government that is getting increasingly arrogant in its approach to administration.

We needed another debate on the issue. Graham Simpson is right that he has held debates on it before—the Liberal Democrats have had a debate, too—but we still do not have the critical answers, including those on the project Neptune report.

The most important thing is how the Government has trashed the reputation of a very good yard, which as a result is not even bidding for ferry contracts—contracts are going to Turkey instead. The Government should not blame anyone else, including the Opposition, for that reputation being trashed. The responsibility is held by those on the SNP front benches and by all those on the back benches behind them, who back them every single day. The reputation has been trashed, just like that of Burntisland Fabrications and the Lochaber smelter, and just like what happened with the £10 billion China deal and the Lanarkshire steel mills, where state aid rules—

Will the member take an intervention?

No—I am running out of time.

The member is about to close.

The Government has trashed the yard’s reputation, and it should not dare blame anyone else for that. The responsibility is with SNP ministers and no one else.

Neil Bibby

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Members are meant to treat one another with courtesy and respect. The transport minister has revealed to members an email that nobody else has seen. It is unacceptable that the minister is treating Parliament and members with such contempt. Where is the email? We have not been sent it. No one has seen it. The Government’s behaviour is utterly unacceptable and disrespectful to Parliament.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I thank the member for his point of order. I, too, was unaware of that development. It will be reflected on and a response will be given later this afternoon, if that is acceptable to the member.

We move to the open debate. I call Donald Cameron, to be followed by Paul McLennan. Speeches should be up to four minutes. There is very little time in hand.


Donald Cameron (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

Since I was elected to the Parliament six years ago, the fragility and unreliability of Scotland’s ferry network have undoubtedly been one of the most serious local issues that I have had to deal with. When we previously debated the issue, I spoke about the people and communities that depend on a robust ferry service. They are at their wits’ end as they continue to live with a substandard service that provides little in the way of comfort or certainty.

As other members have said, an email from CalMac that came just 30 minutes ago says that the MV Lord of the Isles is out of service for repairs, and services will be suspended for eight days. It does not end. To Alasdair Allan, I say this: it is his SNP Government that has presided over this chaos.

We do not hear enough about the thousands of islanders who suffer from the situation. What about their jobs and their lives? As Graham Simpson noted, we need to listen to the island communities. Last week, Arran elected a Scottish Conservative councillor, Bute elected its first Scottish Conservative councillor in 40 years and Skye elected a Scottish Conservative councillor for the first time ever. The fact is that, when it comes to ferries, people are starting to notice who is standing up for them and who is letting them down.

The problems surrounding our network have been known to the Government, and yet no meaningful action has been taken. We know that the contract to build two vital ferries was handed to Ferguson Marine against the explicit advice of CMAL; I will come back to that. We know that ministers ignored that advice and pressed ahead anyway, but we do not know why.

We know Audit Scotland’s view. Its report has been much quoted, but it bears repeating. Audit Scotland said that

“significant financial and procurement risks”

were associated with the deal and that the weakness in Ferguson Marine’s project governance was to be noted. The Auditor General said:

“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. And crucially, communities still don’t have the lifeline ferries they were promised years ago.”

Those are damning words from our national independent scrutiny body. All the while, the ferries remain in dock, more than £150 million over budget, severely delayed and with no realistic end in sight, while our island communities feel never-ending despair.

I will focus briefly on email exchanges from 2015 between Erik Østergaard, then chair of CMAL, and Tom Docherty, then chief executive of CMAL, about the deal with Ferguson Marine. Their advice could not have been clearer. One email from Mr Østergaard says:

“There is no way that the board can recommend the SG through CMAL to take this level of unsecured risk on its shoulders.”

That is CMAL—the very body that was tasked with procuring ferries for Scotland, whose reason for existence is to own, buy and sell ferries—saying in the plainest possible language, “Do not do this.” In spite of all those justified concerns from CMAL’s in-house experts, the Scottish Government pressed ahead, and we do not know why. It stinks to high heaven. It is a scandal.

As a result, our local communities are suffering and will continue to suffer because of the Government’s staggering ineptitude. Although doing so will not fix the damage that has been done, the SNP Government must apologise to people who rely on such services and tell us who is responsible for this mess and who will go as a result of this shambles.


Paul McLennan (East Lothian) (SNP)

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate. I am aware of how important ferries are to the communities that they serve and what they mean to the economy and the general wellbeing of such communities. However, we must acknowledge that £2 billion has been invested in service contracts, new vessels and infrastructure since 2007 and that, in the current five-year period, a further £580 million has been committed.

The Scottish Government’s commitment to publish the islands connectivity plan by the end of 2022 is welcome, and I have no doubt that it will be discussed in the chamber. As we know, the islands connectivity plan, which will look at aviation, ferries and fixed links, will replace the current ferries plan. It will ensure that more sustainable ferries are invested in and that 30 per cent of state-owned ferries are low-emission vessels by 2032.

Will the member take an intervention?

Paul McLennan

I have only four minutes, and I have a lot to get through.

The islands connectivity plan will be taken forward through the national transport strategy and the strategic transport projects review, which will enable us to consider other potential viable options for connecting the islands.

As I said, the islands connectivity plan will replace the ferries plan by the end of 2022, and engagement and consultation on the plan will enable substantial public and community input. That is quite right. The Scottish Government plans to explore the potential to build more fixed links to island and remote communities, and to work with island communities to reduce reliance on ferries. That needs to be part of the consultation process.

Investment in our ferry fleet can come with benefits for our industry. The Scottish Government’s intervention in 2019 saved the Ferguson’s yard and its workforce—

Will the member take an intervention?

No—I have only four minutes, and we are pushed for time. [Interruption.] That does not mean that I do not take an interest.

Excuse me, Mr McLennan, could you take a seat, please? I remind the chamber that it is up to members whether they take an intervention—punto.

That does not mean that I do not take an interest in the subject, so I ask Mr Halcro Johnston not to be patronising.

Please resume your seat, Mr McLennan. I appreciate that feelings are running high in the debate, but members have a duty of courtesy and respect—that applies across the chamber.

Paul McLennan

I apologise.

I will focus on the point about the Ferguson’s workforce, which has hardly been touched on. Let us not forget the yard’s workforce and the fact that there are hundreds of families who rely on the yard for their wellbeing and welfare. Let us not imagine what the impact on the local community would have been if the yard had closed. Let us by all means scrutinise decisions, but we should not forget the workforce.

Progress has been made at the yard, but we need to ensure that Ferguson Marine is back to being a serious contender for future vessel contracts. However, we must also ensure delivery as best we can when it comes to lifeline services for our island communities. The Scottish Government remains fully committed to supporting the Ferguson’s yard to secure a sustainable future, including a pipeline of future work, and it continues to work closely with the yard to ensure that it becomes globally competitive.

The decision that was taken to safeguard the future of Ferguson Marine was the right decision. The Scottish Government has set out two priorities for the yard’s management—to finish building the two ferries that are under construction and to get the yard back into shape to compete for new work. Scottish ministers will do all that they can to ensure a strong future for Ferguson’s.

The Scottish Government remains open to feedback regarding areas for improvement and has committed to a review of the legal structures and governance arrangements that exist between the tripartite group of Transport Scotland, Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd and CalMac Ferries to ensure that they remain fit for purpose to deliver an effective, efficient and economic ferry service. The Scottish Government is developing a revised ferries stakeholder engagement strategy, which will set out an approach to engagement on the three key areas of operational issues, strategy and policy. It has also pledged to consult on the evolution of fares policy, including freight fares, as part of the islands connectivity plan.

Through its “Infrastructure Investment Plan for Scotland 2021-22 to 2025-26”, the Scottish Government will maintain a long-term plan and investment programme for new ferries and development at ports to improve resilience, reliability, capacity and accessibility and reduce emissions, which will meet the needs of island communities.

There is no doubt that it has been a tough year for our island communities. Lessons need to be learned, our island communities need to be reassured and fully consulted, and we need to have a thriving shipbuilding industry in Scotland.


Edward Mountain (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

The ferries crisis is not merely a catastrophic failure; it is the biggest and most expensive scandal of the SNP Government’s time in office so far. Reports from the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee and Audit Scotland prove that, but huge questions remain. Why did Scottish ministers go against advice from their advisers and award a contract to Ferguson Marine? Where did the £45 million in loans given to Ferguson Marine by Derek Mackay go? How can the £2,500 per day paid to Tim Hair be value for money? Will anyone take responsibility? Does any minister want to stand up and take responsibility? Obviously not, which is why we need a full public inquiry.

Let us look at the milestone payments that were made to Ferguson Marine, which saw the taxpayer hand over 84 per cent of the contract value for two ferries in return for one rusting hull and some spare parts. Initially, there were 15 of those stage payments, but when things started to go wrong at the yard, the Government increased them to 18, which allowed the contractor to get more dosh earlier.

As a surveyor with 15 years of experience, I know that, when stage payments are agreed, a quantity surveyor needs to sign off each one. That cannot possibly have happened in this instance.

I have submitted freedom of information requests on each milestone payment, what checks were carried out on the hulls and who approved the payments. Those questions are simple enough. There should be a paper trail, which will maybe turn up miraculously today. That information should be easy to release, but this secretive Government has delayed answers on every single one of my FOIs. What is it hiding? Has it lost the papers as well?

When checking the milestone payments, the Government certainly did not listen to the skilled workforce in the yard. We know for a fact from the union rep, Alex Logan, that the workers knew of the faults but were required to press ahead with a construction that was based on flawed designs. Did the Scottish Government ask them when they made such noises about that? No—it did not; it just dished out the dosh.

An unapproved bulbous bow, mooring stations that were not fit for purpose and cables that were placed up the lift shafts on hull 801 all triggered payments. The Government even signed off the payment for launching the vessel, ignoring the fact that it had fake funnels that were connected to pretendy engines and that it had painted-on windows. The Government went on to pay all but one of the milestone payments for hull 801. To my mind, that was ridiculous, given that it was clear that it was not even half built.

Lessons were not learned when it came to hull 802. Thirteen of the 18 payments were made, with little more than the keel being laid, which was evident when the Government took over control. How could that be allowed to happen? Why did the Scottish Government agree to 18 stage payments, instead of the industry standard of five? Who signed that off?

Perhaps the Government knew at the outset that there was a real problem with cash flow at Ferguson Marine. What other reasons could there have been for agreeing to so many stage payments? Surely it had nothing to do with the fact that Jim McColl had direct telephone contact with the First Minister, which is a matter of public record. However, there are no records or notes of those telephone calls, so perhaps we will never know.

It has been a shambles, with no paperwork and no scrutiny, all of which has cost Scotland in excess of £300 million. Earlier this afternoon, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy asked what other contracts were available. It appears that she does not even know what is going on in her own yard. When the ferries contract was awarded, the fish farm vessel hull 805, Kallista Helen, was being built, and another one, called Helen Rice, was on the books. There were three vessels in total, because there was a gas vessel—

Kate Forbes rose—

The member is just about to conclude, because he is over time. Please conclude, Mr Mountain.

Edward Mountain

The full lid has yet to be lifted on this dismal affair. Our islanders desperately need the long-delayed ferries, and they deserve answers. The contract was shambolic and scandalously organised, and it really needs a public inquiry.


Katy Clark (West Scotland) (Lab)

I refer members to my entry in the register of interests.

I would like to address openness and transparency, particularly with regard to how they affect the issues that were raised in the Audit Scotland report. The Scottish Government has the power to lift non-disclosure agreements. It has been reported that at least one figure was keen to pass on evidence to the Auditor General but was held back from doing so. Will the Scottish Government today confirm that current and former employees—and any other person who is covered by a non-disclosure agreement into which the Scottish Government entered—should not be prevented from speaking out on the issue?

It is clear that the management of the project to build hulls 801 and 802 has been shambolic, with bad and politicised decision making, poor appointments and a culture of secrecy. Islanders and the workforce were not involved in decision making, and representations that were made for smaller vessels to be built were ignored. It is vital for all of us, and for the taxpayer, that we learn the lessons of the procurement process. Openness and transparency are issues of principle and it will be impossible for lessons to be learned from the fiasco unless the public and the Parliament have access to the facts.

Six years ago, the First Minister attended the launch. Since then, the cost has reached two and a half times the original budget. Senior managers have been paid eye-watering sums—we repeatedly hear about the £2 million that we understand was paid to Tim Hair.

It is clear that Scotland needs proper explanations and access to information and documents, to enable proper scrutiny to take place. That is what this debate should be about. That is why Labour lodged an amendment that asks us to focus on that issue in today’s debate.

Labour is committed to Ferguson Marine. We are committed to the workforce. We are committed to shipbuilding in Scotland. We are committed to investment, to rebuild the sector.

None of what has happened in this fiasco is the fault of the workforce. It is the fault of poor management and poor political decision making. None of what has happened is the fault of the islanders, who rely on lifeline services and are paying the price for the mistakes that have been made.

We need the Scottish Government to waive the non-disclosure requirements in the contracts and to come up with a long-term plan that includes procurement of ferries in Scotland, with an industrial strategy to rebuild our shipbuilding industry as part of a wider green agenda.

Hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money has been spent, and misspent. We need transparency and an undertaking from the Scottish Government today that it will waive the requirements of the non-disclosure agreements, so that this Parliament can discover the truth.


Stuart McMillan (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)

I thank Graham Simpson for bringing this debate to the chamber.

If Mr Bibby is going to quote me, he should please do so accurately. In a previous debate, I referred to the views of a worker, not “the workforce”.

I say to Mr Rennie that the yard shut in 2014 and went into liquidation in 2019, which tells me that there was a problem with it for a long time.

Procurement is clearly a crucial issue in any contract. I will come back to the part of Mr Simpson’s motion that relates to procurement. The motion also

“calls on the Scottish Government to say why it awarded the contract for ferries 801 and 802 to Ferguson Marine Engineering Limited against the advice of its own experts”.

Those experts—CMAL—are the same people that the Conservatives, Labour and the Lib Dems have castigated and demonised over the past few years. Now that it suits their narrative, the Conservatives are trying to cosy up to CMAL.

Will the member give way?

Stuart McMillan


It is obvious that the language around CMAL has changed since the Audit Scotland report. I gently suggest to MSPs of all parties that they engage with CMAL to learn about its work and what it actually does. CMAL plays an important part across this country and in Port Glasgow, where it is based.

I assure Mr Simpson and his Conservative colleagues that if, in 2019, the Scottish Government had sat on its hands and done nothing, the yard would have closed, the jobs would have gone and the vessels would have been towed elsewhere. Before last week’s council elections, political parties would have been canvassing in new apartments where a shipyard had once stood.

Is Graham Simpson seriously suggesting that the SNP Scottish Government should have sat on its hands, as the Labour-Liberal Democrat Scottish Executive did in 2005 after it awarded the fishery protection vessel contract to Poland? I am sure that Mr Simpson and his Conservative colleagues would have urged the Scottish Government to intervene to save those jobs, but after his earlier comments—

Will the member give way on that point?

Stuart McMillan

I am sorry; I have only four minutes.

After Mr Simpson’s earlier comments, I genuinely do not believe that the Conservatives would have stepped in, so that yard would have shut. Intervening saved the jobs and provided an opportunity for the future.

Progress has been made at the yard, but there is still some way to go.

Will the member give way?

Stuart McMillan

Operational decisions on which vessel opportunities to pursue are for the Ferguson’s management team and the board of directors. There is no doubt that completing vessels 801 and 802 has been extremely challenging, but let us be clear: those vessels must be delivered as soon as possible, and I have said that in the chamber before.

There can be no ifs or buts when it comes to lifeline services for our island communities. 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 incorrect.

Only last month, MSPs from across Parliament and the local MP attended the yard and had the opportunity to ask the new chief executive and the secondee from CMAL any questions that they wanted to ask. It is clear that the yard is making progress, but there is still some way to go; I know that from the phone calls that I get from the workforce.

I said that I would come back to the issue of procurement. If the Scottish Conservatives want to talk about procurement, they should look at their colleagues in Westminster. Look at the shambles that is going on in Westminster. Look at the £10.5 billion of pandemic-related contracts that were awarded to companies in the VIP lane without a competitive tender process. Companies with the right political connections were ten times as likely to win those contracts.

I will take no lessons from Tories, whether here or in Westminster. Although Arran voted for a Tory, I am thankful that there are 63 fewer Tory councillors in Scotland as of last week.


Ariane Burgess (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

Although I am glad of the opportunity to champion the cause of my constituents on an issue that is vital to island life, it concerns me that debates on the matter in the chamber have not moved the conversation on.

I have cross-party colleagues who feel the impact of the issue as keenly as I do, having been contacted by constituents, small businesses and schoolchildren who have felt the impacts of ferry service disruption on their quality of life. During my recent visit to Benbecula and South Uist, almost every conversation I had on the doorstep reflected that.

I feel strongly that we should use our time in the chamber to make progress, present solutions and advance the causes of our constituents. Islanders and Ferguson Marine workers alike deserve far better than party-political point scoring.

Of course, accountability in public spending is critical, and I welcome the robust scrutiny that we have provided in our debates on the matter. I also welcome the Scottish Government’s willingness to acknowledge the shortcomings of the past and its commitment to learn from them.

I cannot emphasise enough that the next 10 years are vital for the future of our planet, and the Scottish Government must take an approach to procurement that centres environmental impact and community wellbeing. We must urgently decarbonise our existing vessels and utilise technology, as NorthLink Ferries and Orkney Islands Council are doing, to reduce emissions through the use of an onshore electricity connector.

However, the problem is not just about procurement; to get our ferry services fully functioning, we need a comprehensive, long-term marine infrastructure plan that covers ports, harbours, vessels, ScotWind and all the components of Scotland’s marine infrastructure.

As part of such a plan, we could establish three standard sizes for new vessels, so that they can berth at more ports to make it easier for one ferry to substitute for another when a vessel is offline. We must go further to make our ferries a good green transport option for the 21st century.

Will the member take an intervention?

Ariane Burgess

I have only four minutes.

Significant investment in the sector must be future proofed by making our ferries cleaner and greener to run. If ferry operators enjoyed the certainty of longer-term contracts, they could seek investment on the back of future ticket sales to procure their vessels without the need for substantial public investment.

Fixed links could provide cost-effective long-term solutions to island communities such as Yell and Unst in Shetland, where there is widespread community support.

Depopulation is one of the key, defining issues for islanders, and ferry services are only one piece of the puzzle. We need to take a holistic approach. We should extend the policy of free bus travel for under-22s to ferries, bringing parity between islands and the mainland in Scotland’s public transport offer.

We must also improve the interconnectedness between rail and ferry routes, which currently can render islands inaccessible. ScotRail now being in public ownership, thanks to the Green deal with the Scottish Government, paves the way for a more fully integrated public transport network that works for all.

Those proposals in concert have the potential to help in reversing rural depopulation trends, revitalising our communities and making the islands more accessible for those who walk, wheel and cycle.

Whenever I speak about ferries in the chamber, committee or the press, I am always humbled by the response from my constituents. They get in touch with ideas, solutions and great initiatives, such as fitting electric vehicle charge points on to ferries. From procurement, through manufacture to delivery, we all agree that Scotland needs more reliable, greener ferry services. Therefore, I urge my colleagues to be more like our constituents and work together on solutions for the future of our ferry services.

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Do we have any time in hand in the debate for interventions so that we can have a proper debate?

It is entirely up to members whether they choose to take an intervention. There is no time in hand. The length of the debate was fixed by the Parliamentary Bureau, not the chair.

Graham Simpson

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. In relation to the announcement that the Minister for Transport made earlier about the missing email, the first that I have seen of the document was on Twitter. I have just seen it now. That is disrespectful to the Parliament.

As I indicated to Mr Bibby in response to his earlier point of order on that general subject, the matter is currently being reflected on and a report will be provided to the Parliament later.

Neil Bibby

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I have now seen the emails on social media—they have not been sent directly by the Government. It appears that the Deputy First Minister cleared the way for the award of the contract. Will the Scottish Government clarify his role in the matter, as that was not included in the Minister for Transport’s opening speech?

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I have not seen the document in question so I cannot comment on its substance. Mr Bibby will have many opportunities to pursue that issue, which is slightly separate from the one that he first raised with the chair a wee while ago.

Stephen Kerr

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Is it not, in the judgment of the Presiding Officer—the chair of the Parliament—the height of disrespect to introduce the document in the way that it has been introduced? Surely it is bordering on contempt of Parliament to treat us in such a way. It is a huge disrespect and surely the Presiding Officer has a view on it.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

As I indicated in response to Mr Bibby’s first point of order and Mr Simpson’s point of order, and as I now indicate to Mr Kerr, the matter is being actively reflected on and a response will be provided later this afternoon.

I hope that I can now move on to the last speaker in the open debate because time is short. The time for the debate is set by the bureau and I would like to have the full speaking time for the remaining speakers.

I call Jenni Minto.


Jenni Minto (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)

As I have said before, I am the MSP with the highest number of ferry routes in my constituency and live on an island. I understand the shortcomings of the service and, therefore, have a bigger stake in its improvements than most members who are sitting in the chamber.

As other members have said, the Scottish Government has committed £580 million to fund new ferries and port investment in this parliamentary session. That has included the introduction of the MV Loch Frisa, which has been purchased to serve the island of Mull. It will be a welcome addition to the route, and will help the island to have a year-round, two-boat service, as well as releasing the MV Coruisk to support other routes.

Two new ferries for Islay have been ordered, which will bring an almost 40 per cent increase in vehicle and freight capacity to the route. That will reduce emissions and improve the resilience of the wider fleet. I suggest that there is a clear plan: it includes the new Mull boat, the small vessel replacement programme and new vessels for the Dunoon, Gourock and Kilcreggan triangle.

I know that the Scottish Government recognises that ferries are an essential part of Scotland’s transport network and that the quality of our ferry services impacts us all. Engagement and consultation will enable substantial public and community input. I know that my constituents are willing to get involved, as those are their lifeline services, and I commend my constituents who want to engage. For example, the Islay ferry group completed sterling work to inform Transport Scotland, CalMac and CMAL about the projected ferry demand from the whisky, farming and tourism industries in order to inform the design of the new ferries, as well as the timetable changes.

Eleven days ago, I convened a meeting on Jura, linking the community council and development trust with Transport Scotland, CalMac, Argyll and Bute Council and Highlands and Islands Enterprise. As an island off an island, Jura is not unique, but it does give people who live there and visitors to it a slightly more complicated approach to travel. By bringing those key stakeholders into the same room as the Jura folk, we were able to discuss the constraints and issues of their transport services and explore solutions. There are concerns about crew staffing on the Jura route. It is good that those connections have been strengthened to look into resolutions to ensure that the lifeline service is fit for purpose.

The Scottish Government provides funding for local authority ferries such as the Jura ferry. I am therefore pleased that the Minister for Transport has committed to meet local authority partners about that. Later this month, I am hosting a public meeting with CalMac on Mull to ensure that islanders have their say on how the ferry situation impacts their lives. The following day, CalMac and I will meet the Mull & Iona Ferry Committee to progress the matters that have been raised. It has been mentioned that tonight, CalMac management will be in the Parliament to speak to MSPs, and I hope to see all the speakers in the debate, and perhaps everyone who is currently in the chamber, there.

My constituents in Argyll and Bute are rightly concerned about ferries, but they are looking forward with the SNP, engaging with stakeholders, seeking solutions and being resilient—as islanders are.

The SNP in Argyll and Bute advanced in last week’s local government election, increasing its share of the vote and the number of councillors. Meanwhile, the Tories’ share of the vote reduced. In every seat that has a ferry service, the Tories’ vote went down.

That is not true.

Jenni Minto

In my constituency, it is true.

In the spirit of cross-party co-operation, I will let the Scottish Tories into a secret. The main problem that many of my constituents face, as do people in every corner of Scotland, is the cost of living crisis: the cost of feeding their families and paying their heating bills. Perhaps, instead of grandstanding over ferries, Conservative members in Scotland might like to have words with the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Stand up for your constituents.

I am standing up for my constituents. [Interruption.]

The member is about to conclude.

Jenni Minto

Unless Westminster does something radical to help the ordinary people of Scotland and elsewhere in the British Isles, the cost of living crisis will drag on for longer and with far, far greater consequences than the current problems with ferries that the Scottish Government, and the Minster for Transport, are focused on sorting.


Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

The crux of the debate is that disastrous decisions were made that have cost the Scottish people hundreds of millions of pounds. The cost to our island communities is immeasurable. We suspect that the decisions were made for political reasons—to further the SNP’s ambitions, rather than to serve our island communities and Scotland’s industry.

It seems to be convenient that the Scottish Government has found proof that it can pin the blame on Derek MacKay, who appears to have made the decision when he was on holiday, without reference to any of his colleagues. It beggars belief. Willie Rennie said that the email raises more questions than it gives answers. Given the Scottish Government’s secrecy, it is convenient that the email came to light just before this debate.

A cursory glance at social media shows that the email states:

“Just finished my call with DFM. He now understands the background and that Mr McKay has cleared the proposal. So the way is clear to award.”

It seems that the Deputy First Minister signed off the award. Frankly, that adds to the stink surrounding this fiasco.

The minister wants us to move on. Unfortunately, our island communities cannot move on—indeed, many cannot move at all. The ferries are not in operation and the Scottish Government appears to be unable to do anything to help.

Alasdair Allan and Donald Cameron mentioned the breakdown of the Lord of the Isles. There is no capacity in the fleet to allow for the necessary repairs without disruption. That is simply not good enough.

We still have no answer on how the shortfall of capacity to Uist will be made up when Uig harbour is being adapted to fit the new ferry—if it ever arrives. That answer is now urgently required, so I hope that the minister will intervene to ensure that capacity is retained throughout the period.

We need openness and transparency about what went wrong. Neil Bibby said that past employees of Ferguson’s need to be released from their non-disclosure agreements so that we can find out what happened—both during the letting of the contract and thereafter. My colleagues Neil Bibby and Katy Clark said that that information should be released not only to Audit Scotland, but to Parliament and, indeed, the public, because we are talking about their money and their ferries. They deserve to know what went wrong.

The Scottish Government always seeks to shift the blame—to Ferguson’s, to CalMac, to CMAL and now to Derek Mackay—but the blame sits squarely with it. It needs to make good its mismanagement and stop letting our island communities down.

The Scottish Government has also let Ferguson’s down. Instead of protecting jobs, it has put them at risk and is now procuring ferries from Turkey. My heart goes out to the people who work at Ferguson’s.

If the Scottish Government had nothing to hide, it would release workers from the gagging clauses, so that we could see what went wrong and where. Failure to do so means that mistakes will continue to be made—a point that was made by Katy Clark.

We are not talking about a failure of the public sector to provide lifeline services; this is a failure of the Government. The public sector should run lifeline services—the services should not be run for the profit of multinationals, but must be run for the communities that depend on them.

We need full disclosure. Voting for the Labour amendment will provide that.

Graham Simpson

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I apologise for making another point of order, but news has leaked out during the course of the debate—disgracefully, on social media—and we now know that John Swinney was involved in the decision—

I said that in my speech.

We now know that John Swinney was involved in the decision to award the contract to Ferguson’s. Should not John Swinney, who was involved, make a statement in the chamber?

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Thank you for your point of order. The issue that was raised was the appearance of the document without Parliament, including the Presiding Officer, being aware. The substance of Government documents is not a matter for the Presiding Officer, as you well know. The discussion of any statements that might be appropriate in the chamber is a matter for the Government and the Parliamentary Bureau, not for me.


The Minister for Business, Trade, Tourism and Enterprise (Ivan McKee)

I am happy to close the debate on behalf of the Government. It has been an interesting debate. Many members have focused, rightly, on the importance of ferries to island communities. Those lifeline services are important.

Jenni Minto talked us through the on-going work that is being done by the Scottish Government as part of the £580 million investment to support the expansion of the ferry fleet, and the progress that is being made—albeit that it is not as fast as we would like—in that regard. Of course, that funding comes on top of the £2 billion that has been invested by this Government since 2007 to support ferry services across Scotland. That is the important thing that matters for those island communities.

As has been made clear in questions and debates in the chamber on many occasions, the Scottish Government is absolutely committed to delivering 801 and 802 from Ferguson’s. However, from the Audit Scotland report, we also recognise the challenges that are faced. The report says:

“The turnaround of FMPG is extremely challenging. FMPG has implemented some of the significant operational improvements that were required at the shipyard”

in recent months. Those challenges are, indeed, great. The initial report on the state of the yard in December 2019, when the Scottish Government rescued the yard, set out the scale and depth of the business turnaround that was required in order to put Ferguson Marine on a stable footing. As we know, Covid has slowed the turnaround efforts. The yard has twice had to shut down due to Covid and has worked at reduced capacity for many months as a result of the necessary distancing requirements.

However, despite that huge task, progress is being made. The new permanent chief executive has been in post since February. I speak with him regularly and the cabinet secretary speaks with him very regularly. He brings a fresh vision and new approach; he has created a more collaborative culture and works much more closely with CMAL.

I will be very clear with Parliament: this Government expects the yard, as a priority, to complete the vessels successfully and at the fastest most achievable pace, and to turn around its operations so that it is competitive, productive and efficient and wins and secures a further pipeline of work on the basis of its operations.

Will the minister take an intervention?

Will the minister take an intervention?

I will give way to whoever was first.

Liam Kerr

On the point about the new chief executive, the former turnaround director was paid £2,500-plus per day while in post, which the First Minister said was the market rate. The Government is paying the new chief executive, whom the minister lauded, between £700 and £1,000 per day. Is he three to four times less effective?

Ivan McKee

Liam Kerr knows how turnaround works. We bring somebody in for the initial period then we bring somebody else in to do the permanent job that follows from that. If Liam Kerr had worked in turnaround, as I have, he would understand that that is how such operational aspects work.

Will the minister take an intervention?

Ivan McKee

In the brief time that I have available, I want to move on to talk about the other issues.

We have heard much about transparency and the missing document. I answered a topical question about that and made it clear—as other ministers, including the First Minister, have done—that we looked for the document in good faith.

Will the minister take an intervention?

Ivan McKee

I want to make progress, because I have only two minutes left.

From the more than 200 other documents that have already been published, it is very clear that the decision-making process was followed correctly. It is also clear from the document that has been found just today, and brought to the attention of ministers, that the process was followed. Members can see that for themselves from the document.

With regard to the process with that document, it is right and proper that my colleague, the Minister for Transport, has at the earliest possible opportunity brought the document to Parliament and published it on the Scottish Government website, in order to make members aware of it. Opposition members are on wild goose chases with their conspiracy theories: the point is that process was followed and the document is public.

It is important to note that we are working very hard with the yard to deliver the ferries.

I will reflect on Stuart McMillan’s contribution, which was hugely significant. Willie Rennie’s contribution was also hugely significant, but for other reasons that are 180° opposite. The yard is still open only because of the Scottish Government’s interventions. Graham Simpson was unable to answer the question about what the other mythical work is. As Stuart McMillan rightly said, the reality is that without those orders having been placed with the yard, the yard would not be there today.

That is on top of the other industrial interventions that the Government has made in order to save the Lochaber aluminium smelter and the steelworks at Dalzell, as well as the work that we have done to save jobs in Inverclyde. What matters to the communities, workers and people of Scotland is that those businesses stay open, continue producing and remain part of Scotland’s industrial landscape. That is what this Government is committed to and that is what we have delivered in those instances.

Will the minister take an intervention?

Ivan McKee

Willie Rennie can talk about ifs, buts and maybes, but the reality is that if he had been in Government—his being in government is hugely unlikely—those facilities would all be closed. The SNP is in Government; they are still open, because we are committed to the industrial base across Scotland. That is what matters at the end of the day—not the conspiracy theories that come from the Opposition parties.

Will the minister take an intervention?

If I have time, I will take an intervention.

Minister, you are just about to conclude.

I am sorry—I am sure that we will have another opportunity to debate that very important point in the not-too-distant future.

Minister, please conclude your speech.

We continue to articulate our commitment to Scotland’s industrial base and to saving the jobs—hundreds of jobs—at Inverclyde.

Edward Mountain

On a point of order, Presiding Officer.

I cannot let pass the minister’s comment that the Scottish Government has saved the aluminium smelter at Lochaber. It has signed a deal without doing proper due diligence on the infrastructure there, which does not save the plant. Therefore, that is an untruth.

That is not a matter for the chair; it is not a point of order.


Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

Graham Simpson opened the debate by saying that, inexplicably, he was not allowed to call the debate “Ferries Fiasco”. However, we have heard from member after member this afternoon that that is exactly what it is.

That is the case not simply due to the facts that we have heard about, including the budget rocketing from £97 million to £250 million, and maybe up to £400 million, of taxpayers’ money; the milestone payments that were made to Ferguson Marine, which saw taxpayers hand over 84 per cent of the contract value without an actual ship being completed; the fact that workers knew of the faults but were apparently required to press ahead with a construction that was based on flawed designs, which we recently learned might not even have been finalised; the nearly 1,000 electrical cable coils that are too short—

Will the member take an intervention?

I will in two seconds.

Apparently, all that might have even broken EU state aid rules.

On the point regarding the workers being forced to undertake work, who were their managers at that point? Were they managers from the previous ownership?

Liam Kerr

I go back to the point that was made in response to an earlier intervention: the responsibility for the fiasco lies firmly at the feet of this Government and with nobody else.

It is not simply those facts that make the situation a fiasco. This afternoon, we have heard powerful testimony about the impact on islanders, who cannot get to hospital, cannot get to work, cannot get deliveries, cannot see family and friends and cannot even get to school. We have also heard about the SNP’s attitude to that.

The minister said that we have to lift the tone. Ain’t that the truth? It is not only those factors that make the situation a fiasco. Whether it be Nicola Sturgeon responding, “Oh, for goodness sake”, when she was asked to apologise to the islanders; whether it be Stewart Hosie MP denying that money is being wasted, even though the ferries are £150 million over budget, and describing the vessels as being “a little late”; whether it be the minister, in her anodyne amendment, describing the fiasco as “regrettable” and saying that debating the issue is “groundhog day”; or Jenni Minto saying that our using debating time to debate the matter is “grandstanding”, what we have heard tells us exactly what the Government’s attitude to governance and security is.

We heard the minister say that there are huge numbers of documents in the public domain, as if that exonerates the Government. Does it think that by releasing volumes of them, we will not notice that the key document is still missing? Well, we did notice and, perhaps more important, Audit Scotland noticed. It reported that there is “insufficient documented evidence” for why the SNP accepted the risks and approved the contract award.

What we do know is that, in 2015, Ferguson Marine confirmed that it was unable to provide CMAL with a full refund guarantee, which was one of the mandatory requirements of the contract. We know that CMAL notified Transport Scotland of its concerns, and that Transport Scotland notified ministers, who accepted the risks and were content to approve the contract award. Why? We just do not know, because the crucial document that says why does not exist, either because the matter was not recorded—which is potentially a breach of the Public Finance and Accountability (Scotland) Act 2000—or because the document has been misplaced.

Lord McConnell summed it up. He said:

“It seems someone in the SNP government has broken the law. Either deliberately to cover up this shambles or through incompetence”

which is, I presume, why Jim Sillars has reported to the police the—some would say—corrupt Government for the crime of misconduct in public office.

However, the issue is what the situation says about wider governance and transparency, because we do not yet know who green-lighted the contract award. Sturgeon points at Mackay, Yousaf points at Brown, then McColl points back at Sturgeon and says that it was done for political gain.

Today, the minister produced a one-line email, which was found three hours before the debate—what a coincidence!—which names Mackay but brings in John Swinney, and then—

Will the member give way?

Liam Kerr

I really do not have time, Edward, I am afraid. [Interruption.]

Then Jim McColl said:

“There’s no question in my mind that the decision to ignore that, and to overrule CMAL’s advice, was made by the first minister along with Derek Mackay.”

We know that the Government prefers the shade of secrecy to the sunlight of scrutiny. Leaving aside Willie Rennie’s point about a contract this size apparently being signed off in a one-line email, the project Neptune report remains unpublished, despite promises to publish. Edward Mountain has struggled to get responses to freedom of information requests about why ministers went against the advice from their own advisers, on where the £45 million-worth of loans that were given to Ferguson Marine by Derek Mackay are, and about who approved the milestone payments. Furthermore, the FOI requests about the Scottish Government’s Lochaber smelter deal, which the minister has mentioned, were rejected until the Financial Times engaged in a two-year battle to get the Government to reveal the £600 million taxpayer-funded guarantee.

That is hugely serious. This debate has shown a Government that has failed to deliver yet again, that thinks that the ferries fiasco is merely “regrettable” and that has a track record of secrecy, spin and, perhaps, shredding. I note the words of Lord Foulkes this week, who said that democracy

“depends on Governments being transparent, accountable and honest. So if FOIs are refused, key papers lost or destroyed, Parliamentary Questions unanswered and Ministers lie democracy is in danger.”

The debate has levelled all those charges against this Scottish Government. As the Scottish Conservative motion craves, let the shroud of secrecy be swept aside by the light of a public inquiry and the truth revealed.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Thank you.

Earlier, I promised to return to the points of order that were made about the email to which the minister referred in her opening speech. I am referring to the first point of order by Mr Bibby, the first point of order from Mr Simpson and the second point of order from Stephen Kerr.

The Minister for Transport said that officials had informed ministers shortly before noon today that an email regarding decisions on ferry procurement had been found. The minister also indicated that that email and other documentation had been published by the Scottish Government on its website.

Under the terms of the guidance on announcements, it is open to the Government to use the opportunity of opening speeches in parliamentary debates to make announcements. However, the guidance also states that, where an announcement relates to a publication or release of a document, it would be helpful for copies to be made available to the non-Government parties well in advance, to inform the debate. In this instance, it is clear that advance notice would, indeed, have been helpful to inform members’ contributions to the debate.

Hence, I encourage the Government to reflect on whether its approach to providing non-Government parties with that information by speech rather than in advance was the most appropriate decision.

That concludes my response, and the debate on ferry problems.