Ferries Procurement

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 8 September 2022.

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Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

1. I start by welcoming the decisive action that was announced by our new Prime Minister to halt rising energy bills. That vital support will save families £1,000 on their bills, and it comes on top of the £37 billion of help that had already been announced. I am sure that the whole chamber will welcome the measures from the United Kingdom Government to support people and businesses across the country.

Yesterday, the First Minister’s Government announced £560 million-worth of cuts. The cost of living crisis means difficult decisions for Governments across the country. Does the First Minister regret that so much money was wasted on ferries that have not been built? So far, that scandal has cost taxpayers £250 million, which could have been used to address the cost of living crisis.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I, too, take the opportunity to welcome the very belated action on energy bills that the new Prime Minister has just announced in the House of Commons. I have not yet seen all the detail, but I am aware of the headline.

Although I welcome it, we should be clear that it does not represent a halt to the rise in energy bills. Average energy bills are just under £2,000. A cap of £2,500 means that people will still pay more for their energy. Of course, if we go back to spring of this year, average energy bills were around £1,200. People are seeing soaring energy costs because of a broken energy market and the utter incompetence of the UK Government.

Lastly on that issue, all the costs of what has been announced today are going to fall on consumers and taxpayers, although oil and gas companies that make windfall profits should be making a contribution. We can see whose side the UK Government is on.

Secondly, yes, the Deputy First Minister outlined savings that are having to be made in the Scottish Government’s budget this year. I remind members that the purpose of those savings is, first, that we can ensure that public sector workers get the fairest possible pay rises and, secondly, that we continue to target resources to those who need them most in this cost of living crisis. That is the backdrop: a budget this year that, because of inflation, is worth £1.7 billion less than it was worth when we published it. The other thing that we need the new Prime Minister to do is increase funding for devolved Administrations so that we can support public services and public sector workers.

Lastly, no, I do not regret the actions that the Government took to save Ferguson’s shipyard and ensure that those who were working there still have a job. That is important. We will continue to take action to ensure that the two ferries are completed. That work continues.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

There we have it—it is official. Nicola Sturgeon does not regret wasting £250 million of taxpayers’ money, when that money is needed right now to help our services. If her Government had not wasted a quarter of a billion pounds on trying and failing to build ferries, that money could have been used elsewhere in the Scottish National Party’s budget.

Those failures leave islanders without lifeline services and take money away from the front-line spending that we need here, in Scotland. We know that nearly £50 million of emergency Covid support went towards fixing those ferries, instead of going to the businesses that needed it. An internal analysis by the ferry operator Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited has indicated that the number and severity of the issues and faults with the ships means that it will be, to quote it, “difficult” for the vessels to achieve acceptance by CMAL and enter into service.

What plans does the First Minister have in place if, as the experts fear may be the case, those vessels never become fit to sail and more money needs to be diverted away from the cost of living crisis to make up for those failures?

The First Minister:

What Douglas Ross has just said about Covid money being directed to Ferguson’s is simply not true, and he should take the opportunity to reflect on that and withdraw what he said. That misunderstanding came from the name of a budget line. It did not reflect how money had been allocated. If I am wrong on that—[

Interruption

.] Media sources have already corrected that, so perhaps Douglas Ross will want to reflect further.

On the issues around ferries, I have made clear on many occasions my regret at the cost overrun. That is why it is important that we continue to focus on completing the ferries. However, even if we took Douglas Ross at his word about £250 million—which, of course, would not be in one year—it would still leave the rest of the £1.7 billion by which our budget has been eroded because of inflation soaring out of control under the UK Government. It would still leave us with the unbudgeted £700 million that we have had to allocate for higher pay deals because of the soaring inflation that is being presided over by the UK Government.

We will continue to make the hard decisions to get support to where it is needed most. One of the pressures on all construction projects right now is inflation, which the UK Government is failing to get under control. We will continue to focus on ensuring that the ferries are now completed on the revised budget and timeline.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

I mean—[

Applause

.] Well done. There was muted applause because the First Minister did her usual thing: blame Westminster for everything but not actually address the question that I put. [

Interruption

.]

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

I will not have members shouting at one another from a sedentary position. Please just resist the temptation.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

I hope that the Deputy First Minister resists that temptation, although he seems to do it quite a lot because he does not want to hear what members say.

The First Minister’s answer was all about what the UK Government has done wrong and nothing about what CMAL is saying about the fact that the ships might never enter service. All that money—hundreds of millions of pounds—could be wasted.

Today, the First Minister’s former right-hand man, the disgraced Derek Mackay, appeared before a Scottish Parliament committee to discuss the ferries scandal. That scandal has hit Scottish public finances and we still do not know why the Government made the disastrous call that it did. At the Public Audit Committee, the ex-finance minister outlined what he believes went wrong with the contracts before—as we understand—he was smuggled out of the building by Parliament officials. Does the First Minister agree with all the evidence that Derek Mackay gave today?

The First Minister:

I have not had the opportunity to look at all the evidence that Derek Mackay gave to the committee. I will take the opportunity to do that as soon as I am able to and then, I am sure, Douglas Ross will come back and ask me more about it.

Douglas Ross keeps quoting CMAL and saying that its view is that the ferries will never be in service, so let me quote what the chief executive of CMAL, Kevin Hobbs, said in June:

“There is not much now which is standing in the way of both of them being delivered. There are a lot of detractors out there saying rather spurious things about them, but we’ve always had a view that both would be finished.”

I would not suggest that the

“detractors out there saying rather spurious things” was a reference to Douglas Ross. Others, of course, might reach that conclusion.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

The First Minister does not like it, but CMAL has said that the number and severity of faults might lead to the ships never sailing. If the First Minister does not want to hear it, that is fine, but it comes from CMAL.

It seems that she does not like to hear a lot of things. It is amazing how often Nicola Sturgeon has never seen or heard anything that is potentially a difficult question.

We know that Derek Mackay gave significant evidence today but, during the First Minister’s recent run at the Edinburgh fringe, she said that the disastrous ferry contracts were not a scandal. We saw her say that this summer. Her words at the Edinburgh fringe were—[

Interruption

.] I will wait for the SNP members to be quiet, because it is important that everyone hears this. The First Minister’s words were:

“There hasn’t been a scandal with these ferries. It’s a situation.”

A situation! Two hundred and fifty million pounds has gone up in smoke, with nothing to show for it. If that is not a scandal, I do not know what is.

Today, even disgraced Derek Mackay accepted that the purchase of the ferries was catastrophic. Perhaps that is the bit that Nicola Sturgeon did not see today. Her former loyal lieutenant admitted how awful the mistake was, even though it further ruins his already trashed reputation. Why can Nicola Sturgeon not admit that it is a downright scandal that is taking hundreds of millions of pounds away from tackling the cost of living crisis that we face in Scotland right now?

The First Minister:

First, I am happy to answer any questions on the issue. I have answered many questions on it and I have made my views very clear. Douglas Ross does not like it when he quotes CMAL and I quote the chief executive saying the exact opposite, so perhaps he should be less selective in that.

On the wider issues, Douglas Ross has stood up here—I think that this is quite staggering—and said that there is nothing to show for the investment in Ferguson’s shipyard. I do not know about a Conservative, but I think that almost 400 jobs does not equate to “nothing to show”. We value people’s jobs and we take action wherever we can to protect people’s jobs. That is perhaps the difference between this Government and the Conservatives.

We will continue to focus on the job at hand—that is what people expect of us—and I will happily answer any questions for as long as Douglas Ross wants to ask questions on the issue. However, I suspect that Douglas Ross’s choice of topic is more a reflection on his own difficulties than anything else. After all, it is not me who started this new parliamentary term with one MSP standing down from his front bench and another MSP quitting Parliament altogether, so perhaps he has not got his own troubles to seek.