Ferguson Marine Ferry Contract (Documentation)

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 26 April 2022.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

1.

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on the potential impact on Scottish Government standard due diligence of reports of lost documentation related to the Ferguson Marine ferry contract. (S6T-00664)

Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

We have been absolutely transparent about the decision-making process and the information that informed the decisions. There is a clear audit trail of key decisions and the basis on which they were taken. In relation to the documents mentioned in the Audit Scotland report, a thorough search has been conducted and no ministerial response to the submission of 8 October 2015 has been located. As is outlined in the report, we have committed to a formal review following the completion of the vessels project.

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

I do not know quite how to respond to that answer. On Thursday, the Auditor General for Scotland expressed frustration at the lack of records of ministerial decisions regarding the waiving of refund guarantees that would normally be expected in a contract such as that for the ferries. Written authority for ministers should be required for that, but Audit Scotland could obtain no record of it.

The Auditor General describes that as frustrating. He is being charitable. It is at best negligent and incompetent; at worst, it could be unlawful, breaching the Public Finance and Accountability (Scotland) Act 2000 and/or the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002. Will the minister commission an investigation into the matter to establish the facts and, critically, whether the law has been broken?

Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

The Scottish Government and Transport Scotland, along with Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd and Ferguson Marine Port Glasgow, have co-operated fully with Audit Scotland and the former Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee’s inquiry. That included the provision of documentation, the provision of a detailed written statement, interviews with key personnel and attendance at RECC by officials and Scottish ministers. As I said, we have also committed to undertake a review on completion of the two vessels.

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

The problem is that, for transparency, the documents need to be there, and they are not. The law requires it.

Sadly, it is an isolated incident neither in the sorry saga of the two ferries nor in other Scottish Government interventions. It follows a pattern of opaque decision making and roughshod process that can be seen elsewhere, such as the environmental indemnities for Liberty Steel that were found to have breached state aid laws. There is also the Lochaber smelter, where hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money was put at risk through secret guarantees. That decision emerged only after a two-year battle between journalists and the Scottish Government over freedom of information requests on which the Scottish Government knew its decisions would be overturned on appeal. The ferries were launched in time for the Scottish National Party’s conference—fake windows and all—before they were ready and to a timetable that cost taxpayers more.

The pattern is of due process that is deficient, lacking transparency and distorted to suit political ends rather than the public interest. We could call it many things—negligent, incompetent or deficient—but, when the decisions have all been wilful and deliberate, the word that I would use is “corrupt”. It is perhaps not corruption for individual gain, but it is corruption of the process for party-political gains that are contrary to the public interest. If that is not the word that the minister would use, what word would he use?

Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

As I indicated, a thorough search for the documents was undertaken and no ministerial response to the submission was located. As I also indicated, and as is outlined in the Audit Scotland report, we have committed to a formal review following the completion of the vessels project.

It is important to recognise—which Daniel Johnson and other members fail to do—that, seven years after those events, Ferguson’s is still employing hundreds of people, contributing to the local economy and keeping—[

Interruption

.] I know that some members do not think that Scotland’s industrial base is important, but perhaps they should be quiet for a minute and listen to this answer, because it is important to the people of Scotland and the people of Inverclyde that the yard still employs hundreds of people and keeps commercial shipbuilding on the Clyde alive. The same is true in Lochaber, where the site that was referred to is employing an increasing number of people and is successfully delivering products into the Scottish market and further afield.

What is important is that we support Scottish industry. The Government makes no apology for being committed to doing that, ensuring that we develop and ensuring that hundreds of people are still employed in those highly skilled, highly paid jobs, which would not be the case if the Labour Party or the Conservatives had been making decisions on the future of Scottish industry.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

We have a number of supplementary questions. I hope that the questions and answers will be listened to respectfully.

Photo of Stuart McMillan Stuart McMillan Scottish National Party

Judging by some of Daniel Johnson’s comments, he would probably rather not have the yard there, not have the jobs and not secure the yard’s future. There was a thorough parliamentary inquiry in the previous parliamentary session and there has now been scrutiny by Audit Scotland, both of which have generated significant reports and recommendations. Will the minister set out what the Scottish Government did to contribute to and co-operate with both those inquiries, including the provision of relevant information?

Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

Stuart McMillan makes his points well. As I said, the Scottish Government, Transport Scotland, CMAL and Ferguson Marine Port Glasgow all co-operated fully with Audit Scotland and with the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee’s inquiry, which included the provision of documentation and of a detailed written statement, as well as interviews with key personnel and attendance at REC Committee meetings by officials and ministers. As I also said, we have committed to undertake a review on completion of the two vessels.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Mr Lumsden, if you have a question to ask, press your request-to-speak button and I might call you.

Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative

This is institutional corruption on a grand scale. Ivan McKee is showing breathtaking arrogance if he thinks that there has been any transparency in the matter. This is the SNP’s secret Scotland at its worst.

I will quote another law. The Public Records (Scotland) Act 2011 requires the Scottish Government to have a records management plan and to

“identify ... the individual who is responsible for management of” a department’s

“public records”.

In this case, who was that person? I want the name. Why did they not ensure that a record was kept of the decision-making process?

Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

As I said, we have been transparent, published the documents that are available, complied with the inquiries that have taken place and committed to undertake a review on completion of the vessels, as the Audit Scotland report outlined. We are being transparent and open, and we are producing the documents that are available and ensuring that they are in the public domain. We have complied with the inquiries that have taken place and we have committed to undertaking a review on completion of the two vessels.

I go back to a point that I made earlier. At the core of this is the Scottish Government’s absolute commitment to supporting Scottish industry and jobs and continuing to do so, whereas the Opposition parties are clearly not concerned at all about the people who work on such sites or about supporting their employment.

Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. What is the point of members coming to the chamber and asking straight questions when the minister completely ignores the questions and answers something else?

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I think that Mr Simpson will know by this stage that that is not a point of order. The content of ministerial responses is not the Presiding Officer’s responsibility.

Photo of Paul McLennan Paul McLennan Scottish National Party

We can all agree that transparency and accountability are key in government but, to be frank, I do not think that the Scottish Government needs lessons in that from any Opposition members. We should not lose sight of why the Government stepped in to save Scotland’s last remaining commercial shipyard and of the importance of the work that the shipyard is undertaking. Will the minister provide an update on progress?

Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

The yard today announced the completion of a major milestone in the build of one of the dual-fuel ferries. In a major engineering operation, hull 802 was fitted with its large bow unit, which, at 100 tonnes, is the largest single unit to be added to the ferry’s steel hull. The final units will be lifted into place this week, completing the main hull and steelwork and making way for the installation of the ferry’s aluminium superstructure, which involves all the units that sit above the main deck.

Good progress is being made in progressing the construction of the ferries.

Since the Government nationalised Ferguson’s, the yard has delivered three smaller vessels. By nationalising the shipyard, we have kept it open, kept people in work and rescued more than 300 jobs. Since October 2021, Ferguson Marine has consistently employed more than 350 staff. It has had 42 apprentices working and learning there, and a further 15 will be taken on this summer.

The yard has been in a period of turnaround since 2019, and the past two years have been challenging—the pandemic has exacerbated that. However, it is clear that progress is being made. Three smaller vessels have been delivered and a new chief executive officer has been appointed, who is already making a difference and implementing a transformation plan. The incomes of hundreds of people and families have been maintained, including those of lots of independent small businesses that are contractors. Two new ferries for the islands are being built, and a milestone in their construction was reached today. It is no wonder that the Opposition never wants to talk about or welcome the Government’s industrial strategy and how we are protecting jobs and industry across Scotland.

Photo of Baroness Katy Clark Baroness Katy Clark Labour

It is clear that there have been multiple failings relating to the contract and that islanders—particularly islanders on Arran this week—are paying the price. Does the minister not accept that any review cannot be delayed and that there must be a full investigation, conducted independently of ministers?

Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

We are making significant progress on delivery of the vessels, which is what matters to people on the islands. CalMac Ferries is engaging on a daily basis with the community on Arran and elsewhere. The Minister for Transport has joined the calls to ensure that all possible actions are being taken regarding ferry provision.

As I have said regarding what was outlined in the Audit Scotland report, the Government has committed to a formal review, following completion of the vessel project. That is a commitment that we are sticking to.

Photo of Douglas Lumsden Douglas Lumsden Conservative

If the

Government is so keen on promoting transparency, will it agree to lift the gagging orders that are in place at Ferguson Marine?

Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

A s I have made clear, the Scottish Government, Ferguson Marine, Transport Scotland and CMAL all co-operated fully with Audit Scotland and the REC Committee’s inquiry.

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

That i s not what he asked about.

Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

They have all co-operated fully with those inquiries—that is the fact of the matter—and we have committed to undertake a full review on completion of the two vessels.