Ferguson ferries shipyard was 'master of its own demise', MSPs hear

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image copyrightAndrew Cowan
image captionCMAL chief executive Kevin Hobbs and director of vessels James Anderson gave evidence at Holyrood

The directors of a ferry company at the centre of a dispute into two delayed and over budget ships have told an inquiry the firm building them was "hopelessly inefficient".

Bosses at Caledonian Marine Assets Limited (CMAL) Kevin Hobbs and James Anderson said builders Ferguson Marine were the "masters of their own demise".

They were giving evidence at an inquiry into the deal at Holyrood.

It was confirmed in December that the vessels could be three years late.

Their final bill is expected to be close to double the original budget.

In 2015, the £97m order was considered a lifeline for the Ferguson shipyard in Port Glasgow - the last commercial yard on the Clyde - which had been bought out of administration by industrialist Jim McColl the previous year.

But the contract resulted in the yard re-entering administration. The yard has since been nationalised and the final cost of building the two new ferries for Arran and the Hebrides is expected to be close to £200m.

What's been said so far?

CMAL bosses' evidence to the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee follows a session in December in which MSPs heard from former finance secretary Derek Mackay that the ferries would be delayed and could more than double their initial price.

He also claimed mismanagement at Ferguson Marine was to blame for the problem.

The shipyard was bought over by Scottish ministers in August last year, after it collapsed into administration.

However, in February former Ferguson director Jim McColl blamed CMAL for the delay and the projected overspend during his appearance at the inquiry.

He said there were repeated changes made to the specification of the ships.

He also claimed First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced the details of the ferry contract, including the cost of the vessels, before it had been agreed.

How did CMAL respond?

Turning to Mr McColl's assertion that CMAL kept changing the designs, Kevin Hobbs told the committee that Ferguson's were "not being truthful".

He added that 111 changes were looked at. Of these, 30 were never progressed after discussion, while 46 changes were prompted by Ferguson and 35 prompted by CMAL.

Mr Hobbs added that CMAL had to pay £1.55m for the changes it asked for.

What Ferguson is describing when it talks about changes are "their own mistakes", he added.

'Wholly false'

Mr Hobbs suggested to the committee that previous evidence MSPs have heard from others has been "disingenuous".

Responding to claims made by Mr McColl during a previous session that Nicola Sturgeon had announced the details of the ferry contract, including the cost of the vessels, before it had been agreed, he said CMAL had the "final negotiated stamped payment schedule" on the 27 August 2018, and the announcement from the first minister did not come until 31 August that year.

Mr Hobbs added: "Obviously you've listened to evidence from other people and I think quite a lot of that evidence is disingenuous."

In its 41-page submission to the inquiry published ahead of Wednesday's session, CMAL described Mr McColl's assertion that Ms Sturgeon announced the contract before the details were agreed as "wholly false".

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