Two late and over-budget ferries have been delayed again, the Deputy First Minister has announced.
The Glen Sannox and as-yet-unnamed hull 802 were due to be completed in May of this year and March of next, but a letter from chief executive at the beleaguered Ferguson Marine to a Holyrood committee has pushed the dates back even further.
David Tydeman said the yard has pushed the absolute deadlines for the two ships to the end of this year and 2024, but hopes the ships will be completed this autumn and by “late summer” of next year, respectively.
Making the announcement to Parliament on Thursday, Mr Swinney said he had made his disappointment at the further delay to the vessels “very clear” to Mr Tydeman.
He also confirmed a further £6 million requested by the yard would be paid out in this financial year.
Any further financial needs at the yard, which has been in public hands since 2019, the Deputy First Minister said, will be assessed by the Government and its ferry procurement arm Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (Cmal).
“No further delay in the delivery of these vessels is welcome and I fully share what I expect will be members’ disappointment at this announcement,” Mr Swinney said.
“However, the challenges and legacy issues being faced by the team at Fergusons cannot be underestimated and, after the appointment last February of the new chief executive, substantial progress has been made in facing these.
“I understand and appreciate why it is so vital that new vessels are introduced into the ferry network, but we must ensure that any vessel introduced is able to provide our island communities with the confidence that it will perform in service and improve the network.
“I have discussed this with the chief executive and made my disappointment at this delay very clear.
“He fully appreciates the critical need for these vessels to enter service as soon as possible to support our island communities, a belief I know all members will share.
“We stand firm in our commitment that these vessels will be completed.”
Scottish Tory transport spokesman Graham Simpson said the situation was a “disgrace”, adding: “More delays, more costs and islanders left in the lurch.”
Mr Simpson went on to ask how much the Scottish Government was prepared to pay out for the ferries, which look set to cost more than £300 million – three times more than the original £97 million contract price.
“I want to assure Mr Simpson that what I have been doing, what my officials have been doing and what will continue to be done, is there will be essential scrutiny of the merits of the financial case being put to us for any additional resources,” Mr Swinney said.
The Scottish Government, he added, was making “all possible endeavour to ensure that the costs are contained”.
Neil Bibby, the Labour transport spokesman, said “this is a scandal manufactured by SNP ministers and they all have their fingerprints on it”, before calling for an independent inquiry into the handling of the contract.
Mr Swinney said there had been two committee inquiries already into Ferguson Marine – one of which by the Public Audit Committee is yet to report – and it would be “premature” for him to say more.
The announcement comes in the same week the auditor general, Stephen Boyle, released a report which showed six senior members of staff at the yard were paid a total of £87,000 in bonuses in 2021-22 without Government knowledge.
Asked about the bonuses, the Deputy First Minister described them as “reprehensible”, adding that the Government was “assessing what actions we can take in that respect”.
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