FORMER minister Derek Mackay has broken his silence on the so-called ferries fiasco, in a five-page letter detailing his version of events.

The shamed former transport minister has written to Holyrood’s Public Audit Committee, which is investigating what went wrong in the procurement and construction of two ferries which remain unfinished, overbudget and are now four years late.

Mackay has been singled out by other senior figures in the SNP who say he made key decisions which have resulted in the state bearing the brunt of ballooning costs.

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In a five-page letter to Richard Leonard, the Labour chair of the committee, Mackay said he could not “recall” conversations with other key figures after receiving notice of grave concerns about the inability of Jim McColl’s Ferguson Marine shipyard to provide a builder’s refund guarantee.

Ferguson Marine had “won on quality with an impressive bid”, Mackay wrote in his letter, saying he had been provided “sufficient” information to be satisfied it would honour its end of the bargain.

He said: “I was satisfied with the information that was provided at the time, and that all relevant officials had been involved in the submission.”

The submission contained a recommendation to “proceed to contract award” in favour of the Port Glasgow yard – which was nationalised after collapsing into administration in 2019 – despite the misgivings of CMAL officials, Mackay wrote.

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He added: “The submission had followed the necessary process, procurement assessment and milestone stages, therefore I had confidence in the recommendation, but appreciated that risks had been identified and understood to be resolved.

“There was a high level of confidence in the yard, which had successfully completed other vessels for the CalMac fleet. There was also an expectation that there would be sufficient monitoring and oversight.”

A key question in the saga has been why the contract was awarded to McColl’s firms despite CMAL officials being concerns about the lack of a refund guarantee – the factor which would saddle the Scottish Government with the costs of the project in the event of delays and a failure to satisfy the contract.

Mackay referred to “previous submissions and briefings” which would have outlined the benefits of awarding the contract for the ships to Ferguson Marine, but said he was “not aware of” any documents other than his submission sent on October 5, 2015, awarding the contract on behalf of Transport Scotland.

Mackay, who was expelled from the SNP in 2020 after it was revealed he had bombarded a 16-year-old boy with inappropriate text messages, was promoted to finance secretary in 2016, before the project began to run into problems the same year.

READ MORE: Jim McColl claims Derek Mackay ordered secret ferries meeting on contract dispute

He said he was notified first of concerns about the project in December 2016 by then-transport minister Humza Yousaf, and later by department officials.

The Scottish Government provided Ferguson Marine loans worth a total of £45 million in September 2017 and June 2018 – the second of which was awarded despite serious concerns being raised about delays to construction.

Mackay justified this decision, saying: “The drawdown would have been in line with the stated purpose and terms of the loans. It also allowed [Ferguson Marine] to retain its workforce as suppliers, and without the loans clearly there would be less progress on the vessels. Again, there would be disputed analysis of progress.”

He added that information from the firm on how the loan was being used was “forthcoming”.

Responding to accusations that the yard was nationalised apparently without a full understanding of “the costs and challenges”, Mackay wrote: “With the yard in public ownership further analysis could be conducted and decisions taken, but the alternative of walking away would not have achieved the stated objectives of the Government.

“The option of finding another commercial buyer was also not ruled out, but the public ownership option was the best outcome at the time and the right thing to do in the circumstances.”