Ferries

– in the Scottish Parliament on 20th April 2022.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

The next item of business is a debate on motion S6M-04051, in the name of Alex Cole-Hamilton, on ferries. Members who wish to speak in the debate should press their request-to-speak buttons.

I call Alex Cole-Hamilton to speak to and move the motion.

Photo of Alex Cole-Hamilton Alex Cole-Hamilton Liberal Democrat

The situation at Ferguson Marine has been called many things: a fiasco, a scandal, a farce. It has been described as the height of incompetence and as a complete mess. Although those descriptions are no doubt accurate, it is important that Parliament does not become obsessed with the process and pantomime and lose sight of the real-life impact of the situation.

The reality is that the situation is harming communities every day. This is not a parliamentary soap opera; there are communities to whom promises were made. Those promises were not kept. That is what our debate is about. We should be open about how those communities came to experience years of disruption, with years more still to come.

The stories that they tell illustrate the impact of years of shocking Government mismanagement. Last week, the BBC reported the plight of an 81-year-old couple from Arran and the lengths that the two had to go to in order to attend a hospital appointment in Kilmarnock. What should have been a simple return journey turned into an exhausting 94-mile detour involving three ferry crossings. Those elderly people were forced to choose between making that gruelling journey or paying for a three-day hotel stay to attend a 30-minute appointment

There is also the story of a young couple with a newborn baby. They were forced to abandon their car on the mainland when their ferry home was cancelled. That story becomes more harrowing when we consider that they had just been discharged from hospital, that the baby had been born prematurely and that the mother was recovering from a caesarean section.

Just yesterday, residents on Arran learned that the ferry serving the main route between their island and the mainland will be out of action until at least Friday, following an engine failure.

We must also remember the damage being done to local economies and to the tourism that those islands rely on. Caledonian MacBrayne’s managing director has accepted that services are, in his words, “at a really difficult point”. The average age of a CalMac ferry is fast approaching 23 years, while more than a quarter of the company’s major vessels have passed their 30-year design life. When sailings are cancelled, there are no spare vessels to cover those journeys and to serve customers.

That is why it was music to people’s ears when the announcement came that two new vessels to serve our island communities, including Arran, would be built at Ferguson Marine on the Clyde. The work was originally supposed to be completed in 2018. We are now told that the ferries will be ready in 2023. Our island communities will believe that when they see it.

Even if, this time, the ferries have real windows that are made of glass and funnels that do something other than providing accommodation for seagulls, islanders will still be forced to wait and will still be subject to horrendous delays and cancellations and the uncertainty that comes from those. That story is all too familiar to our island communities. They have been dealing with it for years, since long before the scandal was splashed across our national newspapers.

In truth, this latest debacle is only adding insult to an injury that was sustained a long time ago. Those who dared to believe the Government’s promise to fix the situation have now been left doubly disappointed and angry. To make things worse, it seems that absolutely nobody is being held to account for this failure.

The Scottish Government’s website states that an open Government

“gives the public information about the decisions it makes ... supports people to understand and influence those decisions ... and values and encourages accountability (responsibility for those decisions).”

Scottish Liberal Democrats thought that today was a good opportunity to review the Scottish Government’s progress in those areas and on those aims.

When it comes to sharing information about decisions, nobody can say how the Government came to decide to give the contract to Ferguson Marine in the first place. In fact, Audit Scotland could not get to the bottom of it because there was no paper trail. We are talking about the decision to award a then £100 million contract in the face of warnings from Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd.

An open Government aims to support people to influence decisions, but no one can claim that islanders have been at the heart of this process. In fact, decisions were reportedly taken because they fitted in with the Scottish National Party’s conference timetable and not because they were necessarily the right decisions for islanders.

What about the lofty aim of encouraging accountability and responsibility? We have had the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy telling us that she could not say who made the decision. The First Minister then danced around the question of who gave the sign-off before conveniently attaching it to Derek Mackay. It is awfully convenient for Nicola Sturgeon that the latest scandal that is threatening her Government and, indeed, her premiership can be neatly blamed on someone who has since departed politics. However, if we are to take the First Minister at her word, Derek Mackay should appear before Parliament to give his side of the story and confirm that the First Minister and the rest of her Cabinet had no input into the deal that is set to cost the taxpayer hundreds of millions of pounds more than was originally scheduled.

The public and our island communities deserve answers and accountability. This open Government is asking us to believe that a £100 million contract was awarded on the eve of the SNP’s conference without the direct involvement of a famously precise First Minister—a First Minister who famously remarked that she

“didn’t say don’t go ahead”,

whatever that means; a First Minister who ranked the Government’s acquisition of the Ferguson shipyard among her proudest achievements; and a First Minister who has refused to apologise to the island communities that have been affected by this calamity. They deserve better. In 2014, Nicola Sturgeon became First Minister. In 2016, she described the Ferguson shipyard as

“going from strength to strength.”

It is now 2022 and there is not a ship in sight.

Scotland used to be the proudest shipbuilding nation on this planet. In the 20th century, more than 30,000 vessels were built in shipyards on the Clyde, whereas, in the 21st century, the Government can barely manage to build two. Oh, how lamentably far we have fallen under SNP leadership.

I move,

That the Parliament condemns the severe delays to the production of vessels 801 and 802 contracted by Scottish Government-owned Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL), paid for by the Scottish Government, built originally by a company celebrated by the Scottish Government and, since 2019, by the nationalised Scottish Government-owned company; believes that these delays have left islanders and communities without reliable services that are critical to island life; notes that the Scottish Government’s Open Government Action Plan 2021-25 states that “an open government gives the public information about the decisions it makes, supports people to understand and influence those decisions, and values and encourages accountability (responsibility for those decisions)”; considers that the Scottish Government has breached each of its own tests of open government, to the cost of taxpayers and the islanders waiting year after year for the ferries that they need; notes the impact on their local economies and the impact of the cost overrun on the spending available for other public service priorities; expresses regret that no Scottish minister has either resigned nor considered resigning despite all of these events, and believes that if vessels 801 and 802 are not completed within the revised timescale and cost, as provided to Parliament on 23 March 2022, the latest in a string of revisions, then the ministers responsible deserve to finally be held to account in the form of resignations, and calls on the Scottish Government to give this assurance.

Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

I am well aware, as is the Government, that ferries are an essential lifeline for many people in Scotland. Our island communities rely on them for access to employment, for health provision, for education and to see their loved ones. Ferries are essential to support a vibrant and growing tourism sector and to sustain local businesses, enabling the distribution of products and providing vital supplies to support local trade.

Through the Government’s policies, we have delivered considerable growth in services, which has been underpinned by significant investment in vessels and infrastructure. That has already led to orders being placed for two vessels for Islay and investment in ports at Uig, Lochmaddy and Tarbert, and work is well under way on designs for the small vessel replacement programme that will benefit Dunoon and Kilcreggan. There will be further major vessel replacements for Mull and South Uist, and there will be replacement freight ships for Orkney and Shetland. The Government is committed to supporting our island communities and ferry users.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

If that is all true, why do ferries keep breaking down and why do islanders keep waiting for new ferries?

Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

I have made it clear that the Government is committed to expanding the fleet and providing new vessels as quickly as we can. The significant investment of £580 million that I mentioned is testament to that.

The Government also supports Scottish industry, the continuation of shipbuilding on the Clyde and skilled employment at Ferguson Marine, which stands in stark contrast to many on the Opposition benches. Those in the chamber with long memories—longer than mine—will remember that, when they were in Government and responsible for procuring ferries, the Liberal Democrats were prepared to let Ferguson’s close, so their opportunism in introducing today’s motion will not go unnoticed.

The Government also fully recognises the importance of lifeline ferry networks to island and remote communities, which is why the infrastructure investment programme sets out our commitment to invest that £580 million. We accept that the delivery of ferries has faced challenges, but the Scottish Government is crystal clear about what it expects from Ferguson Marine with regard to the delivery of vessels 801 and 802 and the turning around of the business to make it competitive. I fully recognise the critically important nature of completing those vessels for the sake of island communities and the many people who are dependent on that being the case.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

Given that, what does the minister say about reports that the equipment—the engines on MV Glen Sannox and hull 802—might actually be out of date?

Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

The member will be aware that, because of the delays, work is being done on a regular basis to assess the fitness for purpose of parts that have been purchased previously. I am not aware of the specifics that the member talks about, but if he has any information on those points, I would be delighted to pass it on.

I want to talk a wee bit about the Audit Scotland report that sets out the challenges that we took on when we rescued Ferguson’s from administration in 2019—much of which have already been considered by the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee in the previous session and debated in the chamber several times.

The decision that we took saved hundreds of jobs and the future of commercial shipbuilding on the Clyde, and it was the right thing to do. We stand by the commitment to the shipbuilding communities in Inverclyde and the island communities that rely on the vessels that the yard will deliver.

The Audit Scotland report says that

“the turnaround of FMPG is extremely challenging” and highlights that Ferguson Marine Port Glasgow

“has implemented some of the significant operational improvements that were required at the shipyard”.

The challenges have been great. The initial report on the state of the yard in December 2019 sets out the scale and depth of the business turnaround that is required to put Ferguson Marine on a stable footing.

Covid has slowed the turnaround efforts—the yard has had to shut down twice due to the pandemic and has worked at reduced capacity for many months as a result of the implementation of necessary distancing requirements and the impact of Covid sickness absence and self-isolation. However, despite those significant challenges, progress has been made. The new permanent chief exec has been in post since February and brings a fresh vision and a new approach. A more collaborative culture is in place that ensures much closer work with CMAL.

Photo of Jamie Halcro Johnston Jamie Halcro Johnston Conservative

The Audit Scotland report says that

“There is no documented evidence to confirm why Scottish ministers were willing to accept the risks of awarding the contract to FMEL, despite CMAL’s concerns. We consider that there should have been a proper record of this important decision.”

Why was there not a proper record of that decision? Does the minister agree that not to have proper record keeping could be a breach of the ministerial code of conduct?

Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

The member should be aware that more than 200 documents have already been put in the public domain with regard to the issues that he is talking about, and that full information is there about the process that has gone on previously over the period that the Scottish Government has been involved.

Let me be clear that the Government expects the yard to complete the vessels successfully as a priority at the fastest and most achievable pace. We expect the yard to turn around its operation so that it is competitive, productive and efficient, and to secure a further pipeline of work on the basis of its operations.

As I said, the Government has now released more than 200 documents in two tranches—the most recent in March of this year. We undertook the most recent release because the Audit Scotland’s report referred to a range of reports and complex structures.

It is precisely in the interest of openness and transparency that we proactively published those documents on the Scottish Government website. I hope that those documents will help those with a less than full understanding of the issues that are involved to get a better picture of all aspects of the situation.

This is a demonstration of the Government’s commitment to open government that gives the public information about the decisions that it makes, supports people to understand and influence those decisions and values, and encourages accountability.

The Government recognises the value of supporting Scottish jobs, communities and shipbuilding, which is why we took the decisions that we did to keep Ferguson’s operational, and why we work to ensure that those ferries are delivered according to the timeline.

I move amendment S6M-04051.3, to leave out from “condemns” to end and insert:

“supports the Scottish Government’s decision to deliver vessels 801 and 802 to serve island communities; recognises that saving Ferguson Marine from closure preserved over 300 skilled jobs and maintained commercial shipbuilding on the Clyde; notes with regret the delays to the completion of 801 and 802, but acknowledges recent progress with the updated schedule; further notes the continued significant investment that the Scottish Government is making to ferry services to support lifeline services and remote communities, including the completion of the procurement of two new vessels to serve Islay; notes that the Scottish Government has made available to the Parliament and published significant information, in line with the commitment to open government, to allow the public to understand and contribute to the debate, with the proactive release of 210 documents, and recognises that much of the recent debate relates to information that has been in the public domain for two years.”

Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative

I thank the Liberal Democrats for bringing the issue of ferries back to the chamber. Since we used our own debating time on ferries very little has changed. Islanders on Arran are still without a ferry because it has broken down again. No one has accepted responsibility for handing the contract for vessels 801 and 802 to Ferguson Marine Engineering Ltd against the advice of the Government’s own experts. No one has yet explained why that was done and no minister, former or current, has held their hands up—not Derek Mackay, not his then boss Keith Brown, not John Swinney, who signed the cheques, and not Nicola Sturgeon.

We might find out more when the Auditor General appears before the Public Audit Committee tomorrow. Who knows what we might hear if Mr Mackay is invited to give evidence?

We agree with the Liberal Democrat motion, which ultimately calls on ministers to be accountable and to fall on their swords if need be. Frankly, that should have already happened.

We have rehearsed the arguments about the Ferguson contract. The ferries are years late and vastly over budget. Had the Government listened to CMAL, islanders could have had new ferries by now, and the taxpayer would have saved a fortune. Ferguson’s might well have survived without needing to be nationalised, and we should remember that when it was nationalised, ministers had no idea what they were taking on. They did not know what condition the vessels were in. They went in blind and, frankly, it shows.

Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

Is it the member’s position that we should have allowed the shipyard to close at that point and that no progress should have been made on the two ferries?

Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative

The minister well knows that nobody has said that. Despite what he said earlier, nobody wants Ferguson’s to close.

We know that the vessel that the First Minister launched in 2017 had deteriorated by the time that Tim Hair wrote the update report in December 2019. It had suffered from two years of marine growth and was going to have to be taken out of the water. If that photo op had not taken place, things might have been better. There was also extensive internal degradation.

The procurement of vessels 801 and 802 is a scandal. Heads should have rolled but they have not. In our amendment, we call for an explanation of why CMAL was ignored. Of course, we know the answer. It was so that the announcement could be made at the SNP’s conference.

We also call for the project Neptune report to be published immediately. This is not the first time that I have asked for that to happen. Jenny Gilruth has promised to let us have it, but she has yet to deliver. She should be open and transparent and publish it in full because we need to start having an honest debate about how we will run our ferry services in future. The current model is not fit for purpose.

There is some urgency about this. The current contract for CalMac to run the west coast services is up in less than two years’ time. The Government should by now have signalled its intentions and, whatever model it chooses, started to either make changes or launch a new bidding process. All this dithering does not help the islanders, who are the people who really matter. They need the certainty of knowing that there will be a reliable service every year with new and more efficient ferries. They have been let down by the SNP.

Nicola Sturgeon has expressed her “regret” over the ferries situation. However, when asked at the weekend why she will not apologise to islanders, she said, “Oh for goodness sake!” The last thing that islanders who are suffering from a woeful ferry service need is a snotty response from the First Minister. “Oh for goodness sake!” is not the answer to people who cannot get to hospital appointments, make it to family gatherings, get to work, or run their businesses effectively. An apology would help, but the Minister for Transport, who is not here today, needs to decide whether the current model is the right one. I would say that a system that has herself, followed by Transport Scotland, followed by CMAL, followed by CalMac, is not a good place to start.

She should consider models such as those that are used in Canada and Norway, and she should consider issuing more than one contract for the west coast, which could allow operators such as Western Ferries to bid for routes.

We need action on ferries, and we need ministers to take responsibility. Our islanders deserve nothing less.

I move amendment S6M-04051.1, to insert at end:

“; further calls on the Scottish Government to set out why it ignored the advice of CMAL to award the contract for vessels 801 and 802 to Ferguson Marine Engineering Limited and to say which ministers were involved in that decision, and calls on the Scottish Government to publish Ernst and Young’s Project Neptune report immediately.”

Photo of Neil Bibby Neil Bibby Labour

I welcome this Liberal Democrat debate. The Parliament has just debated the cost of living and now we are debating the cost of the Scottish Government’s failure: severe and unacceptable delays to vessels 801 and 802, which have already cost the taxpayer £250 million.

Ministers say that the process that led to cost overruns and delays was “normal”, as if there is nothing to see here. As Graham Simpson said, let us hear what the Auditor General has to say about that at tomorrow’s meeting of the Public Audit Committee.

The truth is that this is one of the biggest public procurement failures in 20 years, and the failure to deliver the vessels on time and on budget has deprived islanders of the lifeline ferry services that they need. This week, islanders on Arran are yet again feeling the impact of being reliant on old ferries that are in desperate need of replacement.

I believe now, as I believed in 2014, that the long-term solution is a national ferry-building programme, and I believe now, as I believed then, that any replacement programme can bring new opportunities to Ferguson’s and the lower Clyde. Scottish Labour has no truck with those who would have let the jobs at Ferguson’s go to the wall. We will always stand by the dedicated, professional and blameless workforce at Ferguson’s.

However, nobody can excuse the failures and the mismanagement that have led us to where we are now, which put those jobs at risk. Audit Scotland found a “multitude of failings”, and there are still aspects of the scandal that Audit Scotland did not look at, such as the procurement decisions that were taken prior to August 2015 and the adequacy of vessel designs.

There are further questions that Parliament should expect answers to, such as why the Government-appointed turnaround director, who earned £2 million, did not turn around the yard. Transparency and accountability are essential if we are to fully understand what went wrong and to have confidence that the Government can put it right.

I want to be clear about what Scottish Labour believes must happen next. There must be a full public inquiry. There must be clarity about ministerial decisions in relation to the awarding of contracts without full refund guarantees. There must be maximum transparency. The documents that the Scottish Government released more than two years ago were released under Derek Mackay—the minister the Government is now trying to blame for the fiasco.

There must also be real ministerial accountability. The Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy would not stake her reputation on the revised timescales that she announced to Parliament last month. Perhaps she will confirm whether that is still the case when she closes for the Government.

The truth is that responsibility for the fiasco goes straight to the top. There has been a ministerial merry-go-round, with the fiasco extending from the involvement of Alex Salmond in 2014 to that of Derek Mackay, and including Nicola Sturgeon’s launching of one of the ferries before it was done, with painted-on windows. Fiona Hyslop, Michael Matheson, Humza Yousaf and Graeme Dey have all come and gone. Jenny Gilruth is now the Minister for Transport and, today, Ivan McKee and Kate Forbes are speaking for the Government.

It is the Scottish Government that is ultimately responsible for the procurement of the vessels, and it is the First Minister who is ultimately responsible for the Scottish Government. Therefore, Labour is again calling on the First Minister to take direct ministerial responsibility. There should be no more buck passing and no more blame shifting; it is time for real accountability.

Today, we ask Parliament to support our calls for the First Minister to assume responsibility for the Ferguson’s fiasco; finish the ferries, do it right, do it transparently and do what it takes to bring the scandal to an end.

The Lib Dems have rightly asked whether there will be ministerial resignations if there are any more delays or extra costs. I make it clear that I do not think that it matters how the Scottish Government votes or what it says today. If there are any further delays or cost overruns, the public—who have paid the cost of the Government’s failure—will expect resignations.

I move amendment S6M-04051.2, to insert at end:

“; further calls on the First Minister to lead government efforts to secure the completion of vessels 801 and 802 by taking ministerial responsibility for government investments in Ferguson Marine; notes that the associated costs to the taxpayer include almost £2 million paid to a turnaround director of the yard; considers that, given the ongoing delays to the vessels, this cannot be considered value for money; notes that there remain unanswered questions with regards to the awarding of the contract for vessels 801 and 802, and calls on the Scottish Government to confirm whether a ministerial direction was issued and to publish a copy of any such direction.”

The Presiding Officer:

We move to the open debate. I call Kenneth Gibson.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

Earlier this month, I visited Ferguson Marine with a number of colleagues. I am sure that, although they are, as I am, disappointed by the delays in building the ferries on time and to budget, they would agree that the determination of the new chief executive, David Tydeman, his management team and the workers to deliver the Glen Sannox into service by next spring, and vessel 802 six months later, was impressive.

Mr Tydeman discussed the well-known trials and tribulations of the ferries contract and spoke passionately and in great detail about how construction of the vessels will successfully be concluded, and about Ferguson Marine Engineering Ltd’s ambitious future plans. A visit to the Glen Sannox itself made clear the work that is being undertaken to complete construction by the 462 employees, 43 of whom are apprentices—soon rising to 58—backed by 250 contractors and a strong supply chain. FMEL is now working closely with Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd and Scottish ministers.

Of course, the yard would not even exist if the contract for the two boats had not been awarded to FMEL, and all political parties represented in the chamber supported the decision at the time. The Tories may drone on now about CMAL’s concerns, but I do not recall that being their position then. Hindsight is always in 2020 vision. The Tory position is simply opportunistic—nothing more. As for suggesting that FMEL should have been awarded the Islay ferry contract, I wonder how that would work, given that the Tories argued that FMEL should not be building the Glen Sannox and vessel 802, as the yard, its workforce and their skills would no doubt have vanished years ago.

The Glen Sannox will carry up to 1,000 passengers and 127 cars between Ardrossan and Brodick, greatly increasing capacity and resilience.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

T he vessel is now more than 80 per cent complete, and it is expected to enter service in March to May 2023. Ensuring that that happens is the yard’s overriding priority.

Barbara McIntyre, the head of engineering, explained that, beyond the ferry contract, the yard is not standing still. It is currently bidding for the construction of offshore patrol vessels for the navies of Bangladesh, Ghana and Nigeria, which perceive public ownership as a major advantage for FMEL. It has been pointed out, however, that the relentless criticism of FMEL by Opposition politicians in this chamber is being used by commercial rivals in Italy and France against FMEL.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

The company anticipates securing orders from the Scottish Government for its seven-in-three small ferry programme, and it stressed that it is vital for orders to be placed for those vessels soon if the yard is to maintain its order book beyond October next year. I know that there are challenges, but a commitment to that from the Scottish Government today would be helpful. FMEL also plans to bid for 40m-80m ferries and offshore wind supply vessels.

For my Arran constituents, however, the priority is that the Glen Sannox enters service. The situation on Arran at present is awful. On one of the busiest days of the year, Easter Sunday, the MV Caledonian Isles broke down. The loss of capacity has been huge, with only the MV Isle of Arran taking the strain. CalMac says that, in relation to bookings, prioritising lifeline supplies and travel such as for medical appofintments and family emergencies for each sailing is being done on a case-by-case basis. For many islanders, travellers and businesses, however, the hard work of CalMac port staff is not enough. The situation is chaos for many people who are missing vital engagements on the mainland and fear that they will be stranded if they travel.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

A dditional capacity is urgently required. High tides have impacted both the Lochranza to Claonaig and Ardrossan to Brodick routes, and there is now fear about planning ahead. That was epitomised only last week by CalMac chief executive Robbie Drummond. The isle of Arran ferry committee and I were due to meet him on 11 April at 5 pm in Brodick. Less than half an hour before the meeting, Mr Drummond cancelled, fearing that the 7.20 pm from Brodick would not sail. It did sail, but what does it say about the service that its chief executive has little faith in it?

Islanders on Arran, Cumbrae and elsewhere are utterly exasperated, angry and frustrated by the endless cancellations, which disrupt their lives, week in, week out, and they have been for many months—and indeed several years. They want solutions from the Scottish Government, and they want them now.

I apologise for not taking interventions. I like to do so but, with four minutes, that is not always possible.

Photo of Jamie Halcro Johnston Jamie Halcro Johnston Conservative

Although we have discussed the ferries scandal a number of times before, I welcome today’s debate, as every week seems to bring further revelations and attempts by the Scottish Government to avoid its responsibility.

As I am an islander, no one needs to tell me about the critical importance of ferries to the communities that they serve. It is something that simply cannot be overstated. I have often referenced the important role that ferries play in allowing people to access public services. The example that I will give has been touched on by Alex Cole-Hamilton and Graham Simpson.

Only last week, the Arran Cancer Support Trust gave a stark reminder of what the situation can mean beyond the chamber. The group pointed to its own figures, which show that half the important medical appointments on the mainland were missed in February, as ferry disruption was rife. This week, the MV Caledonian Isles is out of action, with a smaller vessel covering the route, and that decreased capacity is further impacting on availability. That only highlights the limited resilience of the CalMac fleet and the utter mess that the Scottish Government has made of the replacement programme. The new vessel that is scheduled to take on the route and serve Arran is the infamous Glen Sannox, launched by the First Minister—its windows painted on for the occasion—which is now sitting unfinished in a yard, years later. That is just one route. How many other lifeline services, used for accessing vital services, have been similarly impacted? How many people on our islands and in our remote areas have been similarly disadvantaged?

That is more than enough reason to call this a scandal—a scandal that is entirely of this Scottish Government’s making and a result of the incompetence of successive ministers and the decisions of the First Minister who appointed them. Yet at the weekend, as Graham Simpson highlighted, the First Minister was asked whether she would go further than her previously stated expression of “regret” over the situation and apologise, on behalf of her Government, to islanders. Her reply, quoted in

The Scotsman newspaper, was rather less conciliatory. A “visibly frustrated” First Minister, the newspaper reported, replied:

“Oh for goodness’ sake”.

She added:

“Well look, you can decide to make comments about the words. I choose my own words.”

Well, one word that the First Minister chose not to use was “sorry”.

Does that sound like the voice of a Scottish Government that cares about the impact on island communities, such as those on Arran, in my home in Orkney or in Shetland, or in any of our island communities where there are growing concerns over the future of our vital ferry links? Does it sound like a Scottish Government that truly recognises its role in—and its responsibility for—bringing this situation about, or one that has its finger on the pulse of those communities? No. It sounds like what it is: a Government that sees the troubles of those communities as little more than a nuisance or a public relations disaster that is frustratingly not disappearing off the agenda. I can assure ministers that it will not be disappearing off the agenda any time soon.

I have spoken about accountability, which is key to today’s debate. I remind the chamber that the Scottish Government’s position is that everything is on record and that there is nothing more to find. That position was repeated by the First Minister at the weekend. With this Government, that would be unusual.

We need only return to the conclusions of the Auditor General in last month’s report to see the true situation. He said:

“We consider that there should have been a proper record of this important decision.”

The claim of “insufficient documentary evidence” will be familiar to anyone who has tried to pursue the Scottish Government on any issue, but these are vital concerns about the use of large sums of public money. Yet the First Minister claims that the public knows everything that there is to know. I do not think that anyone on our islands, or even in the chamber, really believes that.

There will be much more to say during the debate on what details are absent and how this remarkable situation came about, but, today, the Scottish Conservatives have come to the chamber with two specific demands in our amendment. The first is for a clear answer to the question about why CMAL’s concerns were overruled in making the contract award and why no proper records were kept of the decision. The second is for the Scottish Government to release the full EY report on project Neptune now.

This has been a depressing episode and it continues to be so. It is not just a regional issue but an issue that has resonated with people across Scotland—those who sympathise with the plight of remote and island communities; those who see hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money wasted; those who have watched as yet another Scottish Government project turned into an avoidable, expensive fiasco—

The Presiding Officer:

I will have to stop you there.

Photo of Jamie Halcro Johnston Jamie Halcro Johnston Conservative

—a nd those who have seen SNP ministers desperate to try to cover up their responsibility for it.

Photo of Alasdair Allan Alasdair Allan Scottish National Party

The transport minister was recently in my constituency to hear about the challenges that different communities face on the ferries front. I know that her visit was appreciated, and the meeting that I chaired in Tarbert, Harris was certainly a productive one.?

That island—Harris—and North Uist share a ferry, with services between Tarbert, Lochmaddy and Uig in Skye forming the so-called Uig triangle—a route for which vessel 802 is intended. The investment that the Scottish Government has put into rebuilding both Tarbert and Uig as harbours in recent years is very significant. That inevitably means that, later this year, Uig will be closed for some months.

Harris, of course, has a land border with Lewis. I have registered my concerns already about what will happen if, during the period when the Uig to Tarbert service is out of action, we try to squeeze all the Tarbert traffic on to the existing service from Stornoway to Ullapool. That would mean that a population of 20,000 people would be entirely dependent on a single, fallible?vessel for several months. No other population even approaching that size is in a similar position on any other CalMac route. I struggle to see how that is viable, unless CalMac can allocate more capacity to the Stornoway route during that period. ?

All of that brings us to the urgency of finding new additional tonnage, whether through charter or purchase, and I again make the case for that option to be pursued. I know that the minister and her predecessor have been active on that front.

The acquisition of the MV Loch Frisa from Norway will directly benefit my constituents, as MV Lord of the Isles will be freed up to deliver additional services to South Uist. The entire network will also benefit from the increased resilience that an additional vessel affords. In addition, the Scottish Government has undertaken a number of short-term charters of the MV Arrow to enhance freight capacity on the Stornoway to Ullapool route. Although I know that it may not be an option to purchase that particular vessel, I again make the case, because there is a strong case to be made, for Stornoway to permanently host a freight vessel.

In the longer term, it is my belief that North Uist and Harris require a vessel each during the busy summer months. At present, those routes, along with several others in my constituency, run at virtually full capacity for the entire tourist season, making it difficult for anyone living on the islands to book their car on to a ferry for weeks on end. Prior to the introduction of the MV Loch Seaforth at Stornoway, those routes actually carried more cars than the Stornoway to Ullapool route. I have no doubt that the introduction of vessel 802 will see a similar increase in traffic, although it is only with separate vessels that each community will be able to have the capacity and resilience that they each deserve.

The recent orders for replacement vessels for Islay are very welcome. In the short term, however, and particularly in the context of the new Clyde and Hebrides ferry services contract, we need to have a serious discussion about how to ensure that islanders have something nearer a level playing field with tourists when it comes to booking tickets. At present, in summer, the playing field slopes away from island customers at an even sharper angle than that of the famous pitch at the Eriskay football club.

Although it is questionable whether the motion before us is actually motivated by any such practical concerns as those that I have outlined, the debate provides an opportunity for island MSPs to talk about the real, and very urgent, needs of their communities.

Photo of Mercedes Villalba Mercedes Villalba Labour

It was right that Ferguson Marine was brought into public ownership, because its closure would have led to the loss of hundreds of skilled jobs and further weakened Scotland’s industrial base. However, although public ownership is welcome, the Scottish Government’s mismanagement of Ferguson Marine is not.

The Government could have used public ownership of the company to drive the development of a national ferry procurement and building programme. It could have worked with trade unions and workers to transform Ferguson Marine into a vital publicly owned industrial asset. Instead, the Scottish Government has mismanaged Ferguson Marine, leaving us with continuing delays, secrecy about procurement and a lack of a long-term vision for the company.

We remain in a position where neither of the two vessels has been delivered. Their construction has been subject to repeated delays, while costs continue to increase as parts degrade, redesigns take place and items fall out of warranty. The Scottish Government’s ownership of Ferguson Marine has exacerbated those delays due to poor planning and ineffective management. However, we should reflect on the fact that it is the communities that rely on ferry services who are truly bearing the brunt of the delay. We need the Scottish Government to take urgent action to ensure that the two vessels are delivered without further delay.

The Scottish Government also has questions to answer over procurement decisions relating to Ferguson Marine. Audit Scotland’s report highlights that ministers awarded a contract to a builder that could not meet the basic contract guarantees. Ministers also signed up to a contract that committed public funds without public accountability. Warnings from Transport Scotland and CMAL to retender the contract were ignored, with ministers pressing on at a cost to the public of £250 million.

Despite their commitment to open government, ministers have failed to make public all the information relating to their decisions on that contract. That is why Labour is calling for a public inquiry into the failings in the procurement of the contract.

The experience of Ferguson Marine emphasises the need for a long-term strategy for Scotland’s shipbuilding industry. In March, Audit Scotland called for Transport Scotland to finalise the long-term plan and investment programme for ferries by the end of this year. The Scottish Government must ensure that trade unions and workers are able to input into that process so that what emerges is a truly national ferry procurement and building programme.

We must also begin to think about the long-term governance of our ferry network. The Scottish Tories have called for CMAL to be privatised but that is the wrong approach. Labour wants a new governance framework to be established—one that prioritises the needs of passengers and communities who rely on the ferry network. We need a long-term vision for Scotland’s ferry services and I look forward to tomorrow’s members’ business debate, led by Katy Clark, on that subject.

Ferguson Marine must remain publicly owned but must also receive continuing investment, because the alternative is stark. A failure to invest in Ferguson Marine will cost vital shipbuilding jobs and skills in Scotland. That would be an act of industrial vandalism that the Parliament cannot allow to happen.

Photo of Beatrice Wishart Beatrice Wishart Liberal Democrat

I was asked during last year’s election campaign why I keep speaking about transport. I was surprised that I had to explain that, without good transport links to the mainland and beyond, islands, wherever they are, cannot survive and thrive. The CalMac shambles has left lifeline services in chaos with people unable to get home for days on end and missing important appointments, while businesses are on their knees because they cannot get the stock and materials that they need. The west coast situation is intolerable and protracted, and peoples’ lives have been severely disrupted.

I will highlight the Shetland case, on which on-going concerns have been raised repeatedly with the Scottish Government. Shetland is served by one ferry route. Our islands face freight capacity issues and limitations on passenger cabin and car capacity on the overnight crossing.

The seafood sector is responsible for around one third of Shetland’s economic output. It generates hundreds of skilled jobs and supports an extensive local supply chain. Findings from Seafood Shetland in 2021 compared Shetland’s freight capacity with that of our closest neighbour, Orkney, which has capacity on 80 scheduled sailings per week. Contrast that with Shetland’s freight capacity of 24 scheduled sailings per week in 2021. Shetland’s capacity is less than a third of that of Orkney, where around 400 more trailers a week could be moved than in Shetland.

The Stewart Building Transport Group commissioned a study that examined the current and short-term future position for freight capacity on the northern isles ferry service. The findings showed that six in 10 northbound sailings are running at 90 per cent capacity, with one in 10 over the allotted capacity. Hauliers are told that there is sufficient capacity across the week, but that does not help to get goods away on Mondays and Tuesdays to meet deadlines further south or bring in northbound freight, including the return of empty trailers, on Sundays or Mondays at the beginning of the working week.

More freight capacity for Shetland’s thriving economy is needed now but, until new vessels are introduced on the northern isles route, the charter of an additional freight vessel would be an interim solution. I understand that, in freight terms, the Aberdeen-Lerwick-Aberdeen route is the highest-earning route in the Scottish island ferry network, generating in excess of £10 million per year. Shetland’s economy simply cannot grow unless there is the freight capacity to accommodate it. There are yearly pinchpoints, such as during the livestock period, so seasonal capacity must be increased ahead of time to limit disruption.

Shetland is host to two new fish markets in Lerwick and Scalloway, which have the possibility to host 600,000 boxes a year. That potential is yet to be realised because of the pandemic, but it could materialise quickly. Fresh fish cannot wait and must be transported as soon as possible, so increased freight capacity is vital. However, the issue is not just exports. With on-going construction projects contributing nationally to providing clean energy and the development of the nationally important space port, as well as Shetland’s role as a hub for the oil and gas industry, capacity is ever more precious.

I have every sympathy with people who live in other islands, such as Arran. Their experiences are familiar to people in Shetland. We must learn from the west coast ferry service scenario. New vessels in northern waters must be appropriate and built or procured in an open process. Islanders do not ask for special treatment, but they ask that their communities be supported and their livelihoods protected. Their contribution to Scotland will be greater as a consequence.

My overall message is clear: island communities throughout Scotland need reliable and resilient transport connections. Greater ferry freight capacity for Shetland now would start to fulfil those needs.

Photo of Ariane Burgess Ariane Burgess Green

For those who live and work on the mainland, it can be hard to understand how important functioning ferry routes are for island communities. Food and supply concerns were at the forefront of people’s minds on my recent visit to Benbecula and South Uist. At a time when the cost of living is soaring, the last thing that our island communities need is further price hikes due to goods being in limited supply.

I met people who are alive with innovative ideas to meet the needs of their communities but, as I visited the site for a future deepwater harbour in Lochboisdale, I could not help but sense that the lack of reliability in our ferry services chokes off that innovation. We need to move from our islands being full of potential to being able to deliver on what they have to offer.

To unlock that potential and reverse the on-going march of depopulation, Scotland needs a fully functioning, reliable, resilient and green ferry network that is seen as an essential part of our national public transport network. There has never been a better time to redesign Scotland’s ferry networks. Given the recent nationalisation of ScotRail, thanks to the Scottish Government and the Greens, the stage is set for further transformative changes to our transport systems.

Our island communities desperately need new vessels, not least to provide a buffer when another ship needs maintenance. That has been happening far too frequently and causes intolerable disruption to residents and, as we have heard, local businesses, such as in Lochboisdale where the ferry has been out of action for the best part of three months.

However, it 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, offshore renewables and all components of Scotland’s marine infrastructure. As part of that 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 it is offline.

We must go further to make our ferries a good green transport option for the 21st century. Significant investment into the sector must be future proofed by improving connections with public transport networks and making our ferries cleaner and greener to run. A constituent recently wrote to me to express her gratitude that there is a new Mull ferry but her disappointment that it runs on diesel while countries such as Norway are already moving towards zero emissions ferries.

It is also vital that we provide free travel on ferries for young people, just as we provide free bus travel for people under 22, as delivered by the Scottish Greens. I have heard many stories of how free bus travel has transformed young people’s lives. Let us do that for young people on islands, too.

Finally, we must ensure that decisions about our ferries best serve the people who use them most— there need to be more islanders on the CMAL and CalMac boards.

I will work with colleagues in the Government to feed ideas such as those into the upcoming islands connectivity plan and the delivery plan for the strategic transport projects review 2, to make Scotland’s ferries an asset for the future of our island nation.

The Presiding Officer:

We move to closing speeches.

Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour

It is desperately sad that the Scottish Government’s mismanagement has had such a devastating impact on the communities that depend on lifeline ferry services; £250 million has been squandered, and that cost is likely to rise.

As Mercedes Villalba said, the impact on the communities that are served by these ferries is immeasurable. Businesses are losing millions of pounds due to lack of capacity and cancelled ferries, and island food and fish exports are rotting on the pier, which has a direct impact on the islands’ economy. The social cost is immeasurable, which Alex Cole-Hamilton talked about.

The allocation of the contracts to Ferguson Marine should have been a step towards building a thriving shipbuilding industry on the Clyde, but the SNP’s mismanagement has delivered nothing but chaos. Instead of putting that right, it now procures ferries from Turkey rather than the Clyde. What are the working conditions in Turkey? Do they comply with fair work practices? What community benefits are being provided by those contracts? As Neil Bibby said, we need a full public inquiry into what went wrong.

In 2019, Tim Hair was appointed as turnaround director in the yard. Emails obtained through freedom of information requests showed that the appointment was rushed through. Tim Hair was paid £2 million to turn around the yard, but the ferries have been delayed yet again. While ministers have come and gone, the First Minister has been a constant presence throughout this fiasco. We need a personal guarantee from her that she will take ministerial responsibility for the delivery of those vessels, with no more delays.

Audit Scotland’s damning report highlights how Scottish ministers ignored warnings and awarded the contract to a builder that could not meet basic contract guarantees. Neither Kate Forbes nor Nicola Sturgeon can explain why the normal financial safeguards were not put in place or why they ignored the warnings from CMAL. There is no written evidence as to why ministers pressed ahead and accepted the terms of the contract without a full builder’s refund guarantee.

The First Minister says that “the buck stops with” her, but she bears none of the consequences of the huge failure, and she subsequently pointed the finger at Derek Mackay. As Alex Cole-Hamilton said, Jim McColl, the previous owner of Ferguson’s, has suggested that the contract was awarded for “political” reasons, so that the SNP could announce it at Nicola Sturgeon’s first conference.

We believe that the First Minister must now show leadership and ensure that these ferries are delivered with no further delays and that the reputation of Ferguson’s is restored. She must instigate a national ferry procurement and building programme to ensure that CalMac’s ageing fleet is renewed and—as Mercedes Villalba highlighted—that the benefits of these contracts remain in Scotland. She must ensure that the structures surrounding our lifeline ferry services are fit for purpose and allow CalMac to work with communities to build the ferries that those communities need. Finally, we need a public inquiry so that the lessons are learned and we never see a fiasco like this repeated in the future.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

Two themes have come through loud and clear this afternoon. The first is the litany of failures that have characterised this matter since John Swinney first proudly announced, in 2014, that the SNP would replace 12 ferries for £250 million. Subsequently, that was scaled back to two ferries for £97 million. Those two ferries—the Glen Sannox and hull 802—will not be in service until next year at the earliest.

Those failures include delays in the installation of pipework; up to 939 electrical cable coils that were too short; not installing a ducktail, which reduces resistance and thus fuel use, even though the previous yard owner said six years ago that that was required; not actually running the dual-fuel engines, which now might not even work and are out of warranty—terrifyingly, the minister admitted earlier that he did not even know about that; and not building the bunkering facilities in Ardrossan or Uig that are required for the liquefied natural gas.

Photo of Brian Whittle Brian Whittle Conservative

Is m y colleague aware that, although the Glen Sannox is due to enter service between Ardrossan and Brodick, the ship is too big to dock in Ardrossan and the Scottish Government is yet to offer a solution to that problem?

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

I am aware of that, and the member is absolutely right to be concerned, because I heard at finance question time earlier today that there is not even a budget to carry out the work that is going to be required. I hope that the cabinet secretary will address that in her closing remarks.

All of that comes at a cost of £250 million, which may well rise to £400 million.

The second thread running through the debate is epitomised by the tone of the SNP’s amendment. What the amendment and the SNP members who have spoken in the debate, such as Kenny Gibson, have failed to do is accept either agency or responsibility for this shambles. In fact, Ivan McKee let the cat out of the bag in asserting in his amendment

“that much of the recent debate relates to information that has been in the public domain for two years.”

I leave aside the fact that some may question the accuracy of that assertion.

Nicola Sturgeon, who ran the same line, followed up by saying:

“it’s just that nobody has chosen to make it what it’s been, and that’s up to the media and opposition politicians.”

The SNP’s case is that we are blowing this out of proportion. That is truly shameful, and it is disrespectful to islanders and the people who are directly suffering the consequences, as Alex Cole-Hamilton rightly pointed out in his opening remarks.

As we have heard, the abdication of responsibility goes right to the top, with the First Minister initially refusing to say who was responsible and who green-lit the contracts, then later throwing Derek Mackay under the bus. When it was pointed out that he was on holiday at the time, Humza Yousaf suggested that it was Keith Brown who signed. Jim McColl, the yard’s former owner, said that the decision to ignore the fact that CMAL could not provide the mandatory refund guarantees was made by one Nicola Sturgeon and that it was John Swinney who signed the cheques. They are all, bar one, senior ministers who sit comfortably in this place now, pointing at one another and muttering, “It wisnae me.” It is, however, Kate Forbes who might have to carry the can—and she was not even here when all of this started.

Speaker after speaker has exposed the rotten culture of deflection, obfuscation and prevarication at the heart of this SNP Government, which gives no one—least of all the islanders who are suffering due to this debacle—any confidence whatsoever that the matter will be sorted any time soon.

The Liberal Democrat motion is absolutely correct to demand both delivery and accountability, which starts with the publication of the project Neptune report, as is called for in the Conservative amendment, and the public inquiry that Neil Bibby demanded earlier. That is why Parliament should agree to the motion and to the Conservative and Labour amendments today—and get this ferry fiasco sorted.

Photo of Kate Forbes Kate Forbes Scottish National Party

As many members have said, for our island communities, ferries are as critical as roads, rail and bus links are on the mainland. They are possibly even more important, because they are nearly always the only route to the islands. They are relied on for access to employment, health provision and education, as well as to see loved ones. Breakdowns and cancellations are deeply regrettable, to put it mildly. In the previous debate on the subject a matter of weeks ago, the transport minister and I apologised unreservedly on two separate occasions to those island communities.

During the Easter recess, I visited constituents by travelling on the very vessels on which they rely. I know that colleagues in the chamber who represent island communities will have done likewise. Those include Alasdair Allan and Kenny Gibson, who mentioned some solutions and suggestions to improve vessel connectivity in their constituencies. Those suggestions are all worthy of urgent consideration by CalMac and Transport Scotland.

Scrutiny in the Parliament is vitally important, which is demonstrated by our having another debate on this important issue. Arguably, scrutiny by the public is even more important, and listening directly to those communities matters enormously.

Over the past few years, we have sought to deliver considerable growth in services, underpinned by significant investment in vessels and infrastructure. We have also identified substantial funds, not least in the most recent budget, to invest further in enhancing the resilience of the fleet, including through the procurement of new vessels. That has already seen orders placed for two new vessels for Islay, as well as investment in ports at Uig, Lochmaddy and Tarbert. That work is already well under way, as are the designs for the small vessel replacement programme.

That brings me to Ferguson Marine. I have already set out the scale of the challenge that we took on when we rescued Ferguson’s from administration in 2019. It is important to note that we did so in order to complete vessels 801 and 802 on behalf of the communities that rely on them. We also saved hundreds of jobs and the future of commercial shipbuilding on the Clyde. It was the right thing to do.

We stand by our commitment to the shipbuilding communities in Inverclyde and to our island communities that rely on the vessels that the yard will deliver. I was pleased that Opposition MSPs had the opportunity to visit the yard a few weeks ago to see the vessels and to hear from the new chief executive about the work that is under way.

The challenges have been great and progress has not been as fast as we would have liked it to be. I have made my views abundantly clear to the chief executive and the chair that the vessels must be delivered. Ultimately, the board is required to deliver on our clear expectations for the business. There are three expectations of the board. First, it must successfully complete the vessels at the fastest achievable pace. Secondly, it must make the yard competitive, productive and efficient. Thirdly, it must win further work on the basis of the yard’s ability to deliver.

I am heartened by reports from those who visited the yard that tangible progress can be seen. That is in line with the Audit Scotland recommendation, which states:

“The turnaround of FMPG is extremely challenging” but

“FMPG has implemented some of the significant operational improvements that were required at the shipyard”.

We will drive forward the process to ensure that Ferguson Marine is an efficient and effective shipbuilder.

Before I close, I will turn to the claims about a lack of transparency. There have been two proactive releases of documents. The Government chose to release those documents, of which there are 210 in total. Those have willingly been put into the public domain with the express intention of enhancing the public’s understanding of what we are trying to achieve and the processes that are in place.

The Scottish Parliament’s inquiry was followed by the Audit Scotland report. Those reports are useful. In places, they are difficult to read because of the hugely challenging situation that has been created. Equally, they include clear recommendations, many of which have already been taken forward. Furthermore, lessons have been learned, not least in the most recent procurement exercise and in the way in which the Scottish Government invests in private companies.

Things have not progressed as we might have hoped they would, but progress is being made on arguably the most important element: completing the vessels as quickly as possible. It has taken a mammoth effort by all involved to get the yard moving to build the ships that we need. Much work remains to be done, both to deliver the vessels and to make the yard efficient and competitive. The scale of the challenge is not in question, but we are committed to meeting that challenge for the sake of those who depend on the ferry services. I know that it is a challenge that David Tydeman, the new chief executive of Ferguson Marine, is willing to meet—

The Presiding Officer:

I ask you to conclude, please, cabinet secretary.

Photo of Kate Forbes Kate Forbes Scottish National Party

I will close by saying that we are committed to resolving that.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

I thought that Kenny Gibson summed up things extremely well when he said that the situation on Arran is “awful” and that it is “chaos”. He demanded urgent action from his own SNP Government. I contrast that with Alasdair Allan, who made not a peep of criticism of the Government for the delays that directly affect his constituency.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

I will give way in a second.

That is just like all the other supine back benchers this afternoon who have not uttered a word of criticism of the Government.

Photo of Alasdair Allan Alasdair Allan Scottish National Party

I do not mean to read out my speech all over again, but the member will have heard me criticise the situation with regard to specific routes to my consistency relating to the lack of service, including the lack of service that is currently planned for Tarbert to Uig. I really think that what he said is inaccurate and he might want to reconsider.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

What I said was not inaccurate in any way. There was not one word of criticism by the member about the Government or the delays to the ferries that have led to the situation in his constituency. If he is going to stand up for his constituents, he has to stand up to the Government.

Alex Cole-Hamilton referred to the open Government action plan. I can guarantee that it is a riveting read and I recommend it. As ever, the Government claims that its approach is “world-leading” and pioneering. It boldly states:

“An Open Government ... gives the public information about the decisions it makes ... supports people to understand and influence those decisions ... and— this is the best bit—

“values and encourages accountability”.

Despite what Ivan McKee said in his opening remarks, the Government has failed on every part of the document. Take project Neptune. The Government agreed to an investigation by Ernst & Young. Its report has been ready for a long time. Have we seen it? Despite repeated promises that we would, no, we have not. If we have an open Government, it should publish that report without delay.

Jamie Halcro-Johnston mentioned Audit Scotland. Audit Scotland said that there was a lack of transparent decision making, and then continued:

“There is insufficient documentary evidence to explain why Scottish ministers accepted the risks and were content to approve the contract award in October 2015.”

Kate Forbes said that documents were public. Audit Scotland disagrees and says that evidence has not been forthcoming. Where is that evidence? If it does not exist, why on earth does it not exist? This was a critical decision involving hundreds of millions of pounds and two important ferries for the constituents of the members who have spoken this afternoon. We have not seen those documents. If we have an open Government, they should be published without delay.

Then, in a new low, we saw in this very chamber the First Minister point the finger at Derek Mackay, who is no longer here to defend himself. We only later discovered that he was not involved in the sign-off. Perhaps another minister was, but we have still not been told which ministers were responsible. If we have an open Government, we need to know exactly which ministers made that decision. On project Neptune, on Audit Scotland and on Derek Mackay, the SNP Government is mired in secrecy.

The open Government action plan emphasises that there must be accountability but, despite the delays, the cost overruns, the waste of public funds and the betrayal of the shipyard workers and the islanders who are still waiting, no minister has been held accountable. Accountability is at the heart of our democratic system. If ministers think that their jobs are secure no matter how many cock-ups they make, no matter how many mistakes they make and no matter how many things they get wrong, our democracy is fatally undermined.

Yet no minister has resigned. Other politicians have resigned for far less. David McLetchie resigned because of taxi bills. Henry McLeish went as a result of his office rent in Glenrothes. Wendy Alexander went for £995. SNP ministers waste hundreds of millions of pounds, but everyone keeps their job, their salary and their ministerial car. What will it take for ministers to resign? How bad does it have to get? Will the costs have to go to £260 million, £300 million or £400 million, or will they keep their jobs no matter how high the price goes?

If construction is delayed by another three months—or a year or two years—will anybody go? Will the minister resign if future ferry contracts do not go to Ferguson, just like the ones that have gone to Turkey? I bet that they do not. There is not a chance that a minister in this Government is going to resign, because they are more interested in looking after themselves than in serving the public in this country.

The First Minister does not think that it is bad enough yet. Boris Johnson is refusing to resign no matter how many “partygate” fines he gets. However, I did not think that the moral backbone of Boris Johnson was the gold standard to which the SNP aspires, so I think that we should be told: will any minister be held to account for this utter shambles? The ferries are four years late and three times over budget, islanders are without lifeline services and the reputation of a shipyard with a proud heritage has been trashed by terrible leadership. What is the response from the SNP Government? Just be grateful—it could have been worse.

Let the minister tell the taxpayers that they should be grateful because it could have been worse; tell the care workers who are desperate for a pay rise that it could have been worse; tell the islanders who are stuck at harbours waiting on their broken ferries to be fixed once again that it could have been worse; and tell the shipyard workers who see orders for new ferries—

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

— heading for Turkey because the Government-owned yard did not even bid for them that it could have been worse.

This is arrogance from an SNP Government that has been in power for far too long.

The Presiding Officer:

You must now conclude, Mr Rennie.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

Ministers should be held to account and they should resign—

The Presiding Officer:

You must conclude.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

— if they do not get this fixed.

The Presiding Officer:

That concludes the debate on ferries.