The new hybrid ferries will replace ones currently operating on the Clyde and Hebrides routes © Education Images/Universal Images Group/Getty Images
The new hybrid ferries will replace ones currently operating on the Clyde and Hebrides routes © Education Images/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Inquiry launched into Scottish ferry procurement

6 January 2020

Scottish ministers have launched an inquiry into a £97m contract for two ferries to be built by Ferguson Marine shipyard as it emerges taxpayers face an additional £110m bill.

The inquiry, which is being carried out by the Scottish Government’s Rural Economy and Connectivity (REC) committee, is set to focus on the procurement and construction process for the ferries, following the collapse and subsequent nationalisation of Ferguson last year. 

In August 2019, ministers took over the shipyard after it announced it had entered into administration. The shipyard was building the ferries for Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) ferries, a state-owned enterprise. 

There had been disputes between Ferguson and CMAL about who was responsible for paying for design changes.  

Committee convener Edward Mountain (Cons) said: “Repeated delays to the planned schedule for delivery by Ferguson Marine of the two new hybrid ferries have been further complicated by the company’s entry into administration and the Scottish Government’s subsequent decision to assume public ownership of the Inverclyde shipyard.

“The committee wants to find out not only what has gone wrong and how things will be put right, but how these problems can be avoided in the future. We need to make sure that the relevant lessons from this saga are learned for the procurement and construction of new ferries in future.”

Last month, the Scottish Government published a report which estimated the delivery of the ferries could cost taxpayers an additional £110m. 

Finance secretary, Derek Mackay told ministers a lack of proper management had a “disastrous impact” on the yard. 

“Project planning was largely absent, which resulted in out-of-sequence and often abortive work. Controls on subcontracted resource and materials were lacking. Quality control through the build-out process was largely absent, and the vessels have not been maintained in the condition in which we would expect them to be maintained.

“The failures of management, planning, and process mean that the vessels are behind their original programme and significant rework is required,” he said. 

Meanwhile, Scotland’s transport minister Michael Matheson announced the Abellio ScotRail contract would be ending in March 2022, three years early.

The franchise, which covers all rail services within Scotland but not cross border routes, had faced criticism from customers over performance levels. Matheson said he rejected Abellio’s request to increase the subsidy it needed from 2022 onwards.

“We are not satisfied that the significant increase in public subsidy that would otherwise be required would generate commensurate benefits for passengers, communities and the economy,” he said. 

Dominic Booth, MD of Abellio UK, said the firm was “hugely disappointed” by the decision. 

“Our offer to Transport Scotland would have delivered an improved service for our customers at a reduced cost to the taxpayer,” he added. 

Separately, Rhoda Grant MSP (Scottish Labour and Co-operatives) has urged Scottish councils to sign up the Co-operative Party’s Charter Against Modern Slavery to ensure their supply chains are free from modern slavery. 

The charter calls for councils to train procurement teams to understand modern slavery and to challenge any abnormally low-cost tenders to ensure they do not rely upon the potential contractor practicing modern slavery.

Grant told The Scotsman: “Every council in Scotland should sign up so that we target council procurement chains to send a strong signal to people who enslave other human beings to enrich themselves.

“Implementing the charter helps identify and rescue those who are living lives of servitude and can link them up with support from agencies such as social work and child protection.”

Eight of Scotland’s 32 councils – Dundee, East Ayrshire, Edinburgh, Midlothian, North Ayrshire, Renfrewshire, South Lanarkshire, and West Lothian – have signed up.

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