Ferries contract decision was not politically motivated, says ex-minister Mackay

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Former finance secretary Derek Mackay has rejected claims the awarding of a contract for two ferries – which are over budget and late – was politically motivated.

Mr Mackay, who quit the Scottish Cabinet in 2020 after messages he sent to a 16-year-old boy were made public by the Scottish Sun, was the transport minister who awarded the contract to Ferguson Marine in Port Glasgow in 2015.

The yard has since been nationalised to save it from administration and the Glen Sannox and the as-yet-unnamed hull 802 are projected to cost two-and-a-half times more than planned and be delivered five years late.

Derek Mackay in Holyrood
Derek Mackay appeared at Holyrood for the first time in more than two years (Fraser Bremner/Daily Mail/PA)

“Nobody was ever compromised on that matter, the decision to award the contract to Ferguson was based on Ferguson’s bid, nothing else,” he told the Public Audit Committee at Holyrood on Thursday.

Mr Mackay, who has not been seen in Holyrood since he quit as finance secretary, also said he “can’t imagine” First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was involved personally in the procurement of the ferries.

The former minister left the committee room through an alternative exit, avoiding waiting journalists.

In the session, Mr Mackay also rejected claims he has been put up as a “fall guy” for the Scottish Government in recent years, having left politics.

“I said in my opening remarks to committee that I’ll take my share of responsibility and I’ll answer robustly any decision that I have taken,” he said in response to Conservative MSP Craig Hoy.

Derek Mackay before committee
It was the former finance secretary’s first appearance in Holyrood since he quit the Scottish Cabinet in disgrace in 2020 (Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament/PA)

“But what I don’t regret is protecting the workforce, and ensuring that the yard was supported, it has a future and we were able to support Scottish shipbuilding.”

When asked who else has to share in the responsibility, Mr Mackay said: “According to the Auditor General and the previous (Rural Affairs and Connectivity Committee) in the previous Parliament, there are multiple failings.

“I don’t think it all rests on me, but other people have advised there are multiple failings here.”

The committee probe was prompted by a report from Auditor General Stephen Boyle, who found there to be a lack of documentary evidence for the decision to move ahead with the contract despite the lack of a full builder’s guarantee – an industry standard designed to protect the buyer.

Business minister Ivan McKee confirmed this week that the vessels are on track to be delivered in May and December of next year respectively and there is currently no expected increase to the projected overspend.

The issue was raised during First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, with Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross saying money paid out for the ferries could have been used elsewhere in the Scottish Government’s budget.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney this week announced more than £500 million of cuts as a result of public sector pay deals.

Mr Ross said: “These failures leave islanders without lifeline services and they take money away from the frontline spending we need here in Scotland.”

Ms Sturgeon said she had made clear her “regret” at the situation, but said the £250 million spend on the ships would be compared to a projected £1.7 billion wiped off the Scottish Government’s budget as a result of inflation.

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