THE business tycoon at the centre of the row over two overdue CalMac ferries has claimed Derek Mackay held a secret meeting with him about the fraught financial battle which would eventually see the yard nationalised.

Jim McColl (below) told MSPs the shamed former finance secretary ordered Government officials out of the room so they could speak in private about the dispute over payments between Ferguson Marine and CMAL, the body in charge of Scotland’s ferry infrastructure. 

The National:

The former owner of Ferguson Marine Engineering Ltd (FMEL) also said he “wished” the contract had never been awarded to his firm, insisting that the yard would have managed without. Instead, it fell into administration and is now state-owned. 

READ MORE: Direct ferry link between Scotland and Europe 'set to return in 2023'

He said: “In trying to push the independent expert determination, I went to meet with Derek Mackay, who at that time, was the finance secretary and I met him in Holyrood.

The National:

“I was begging him to insist, to force CMAL to accept an independent expert determination because if he didn’t, this was going to get out of hand and it needed to be brought to a head.

“He asked the officials in the room to leave and he told me that he couldn’t force them to do it, because they had sent a legal letter, he said, to Government ministers, threatening that if they interfered with them as an independent board – or if they continued to interfere with them as an independent board – they would resign en masse.

“There was no-one else in the room so no-one else can corroborate that but perhaps the officials that were there at the meeting could tell you that they were asked to leave and leave me in the room.”

McColl added that he believed CMAL felt undermined because of the initial decision to overrule their concerns about awarding the contract to his firm in the first place and that bringing in independent experts would exacerbate this.

READ MORE: Scottish refugees give damning verdict on 'cruel, inhumane' Rwanda policy

Holyrood’s Public Audit Committee is currently investigating why the two ferries, intended to serve CalMac’s Clyde and Hebridean routes, are now on course to be delivered five years late, at a cost to the taxpayer of £240 million – more than two and a half times the original budget.

The National:

Mackay, who resigned in disgrace in 2020 after it was revealed he had pestered a 16-year-old boy with text messages, has been fingered as the minister entirely responsible for the award of the contract.

Because McColl’s yard would not offer a builder’s refund on the project, the state has been liable for the costs of delays.

He claims Mackay told him the firm's alternative to the refund guarantee was acceptable. 

McColl told the committee on Thursday morning he had “begged” the then-finance secretary to bring in experts to go over the heads of CMAL officials but was told this was not possible.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon attacks 'anti-democrat' Douglas Ross over 'illegal' indyref claim

McColl blames this for ultimately meaning his firm was unable to fulfil the contract, resulting in FMEL being nationalised.

FMEL submitted a £17.5m claim to CMAL in July 2017 on top of the existing contract to recoup unforeseen complexities with the project. The firm had pressed ahead with construction before plans were finalised, resulting in significant problems further down the line.

Mackay, transport minister at the time the original contract was awarded in 2015, has been blamed by the Scottish Government for overruling the concerns of senior civil servants at CMAL. He has been invited to give evidence to the committee.