Nicola Sturgeon has said it is “regrettable” a key decision around the contract for the Ferguson Marine ferries was not recorded properly.
She said the Scottish Government will learn any lessons it needs to about record-keeping, and she is willing to appear before a Holyrood committee to discuss the issue.
It comes after auditor general Stephen Boyle expressed frustration that he was not able to review all documents relating to the awarding of the contract, though he said he did not believe the Government was withholding the information.
In the years since the contract was awarded, the yard in Port Glasgow, Inverclyde, has been saved from administration by the Scottish Government, and the estimated delivery of the vessels has been pushed back by five years, along with an increase in costs from £97 million to at least £250 million.
The two vessels, Glen Sannox and the as-yet-unnamed hull 802, are now expected to be completed between March and May 2023 and between October and December 2023 respectively.
There has been scrutiny around why the contract was given to Ferguson Marine without a full refund guarantee, with an Audit Scotland report saying there was “insufficient documentary evidence” to explain this.
The First Minister was asked about the situation at the launch of the SNP local election manifesto in Greenock, near Port Glasgow.
Responding to questions from journalists, she said: “There’s clearly a key point of decision-making that has not been recorded in the way it should have been.
“That is regrettable but there is no cover-up around this.”
Ms Sturgeon said she had not seen the auditor general’s session but she does not believe he had accused the Government of withholding evidence.
The First Minister continued: “That is regrettable, I’m not trying to diminish the importance of that. But anybody can go on to the Scottish Government website and see the sheer quantum of paperwork and recording of decisions around this issue.
“The Public Audit Committee will continue to look at this, if they ask me to give evidence I will do that and I will seek to answer all of their questions to the very best of my ability.”
Asked if the Scottish Government had a problem around data retention, she said: “There is a wealth of paperwork, a huge amount of paperwork, associated with the decision-making around Ferguson’s.”
She said a lot of this information had been in the public domain since 2019, acknowledging the decision around the awarding of the contract was an important one.
The First Minister continued: “We will of course reflect on any lessons we need to learn around record-keeping and data retention in the Scottish Government.”
Anas Sarwar, Scottish Labour leader said the First Minister’s response “smacks of a cover-up”.
He said: “It simply beggars belief that these vital and costly decisions were not recorded properly by government officials.
“We need answers as to why the SNP government did not follow protocol properly and record these decisions.
“Frankly, this smacks of cover-up and conspiracy.
“Far too often, this SNP government is unable to be straight with the people of Scotland – this must end.”
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