THE people of Scotland and island communities have been badly let down by the ferries project at Ferguson Marine, Holyrood’s Public Audit Committee has said.

In a new report, MSPs have highlighted key failings in governance, transparency, accountability, communication and record-keeping from their scrutiny of the Auditor General’s report on the building of the new ships.

Hulls 801 – known as Glen Sannox – and 802 are being built at the Port Glasgow shipyard but are five years behind schedule and hugely over budget.

The committee said it had serious concerns around the initial stages of the procurement process and has called on the Auditor General to complete a forensic analysis of how £128.25 million of public money was spent by Ferguson Marine Engineering Limited (FMEL).

The report shines light on the “serious failings” of Transport Scotland, including the “weak and toothless” Programme Steering Group it led and its’ consistent failure to accurately and timeously reflect CMALs concerns to Scottish ministers.

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It also calls into question the role of various Scottish ministers. The majority of the committee considered that both the First Minister’s decision to publicly announce the preferred bidder when considerable negotiations were still required, and the decision to proceed in the absence of a full guarantee, weakened Caledonian Maritime Assets’ (CMAL) position when the standard of FMEL’s work became an issue.

CMAL owns the ferries, ports, harbours and infrastructure for the ferry services serving the west coast, the Firth of Clyde and the Northern Isles.

The report says that a formal review of the entire project on completion of the vessels is essential for learning lessons for future projects.

Launching the report, convener Richard Leonard said: “The people of Scotland have been badly let down by this project. There have been collective failures at government and agency level from the start.

“It has been dogged by a lack of transparency; by ineffective governance arrangements; by poor record-keeping within the Government; and by baffling communication failures.

The National:

“Throughout our scrutiny, we took a wide range of evidence, navigating our way through many conflicting perspectives to reach the conclusions set out today. We had to battle to get some of the information we needed. Sadly, despite our best efforts, some questions remain unanswered.

“We recognise the efforts by the Scottish Government to protect jobs at Ferguson Marine and commend the workforce for their resilience during what has been and continues to be an extremely challenging time. Their experienced voices should have been listened to from the outset.

“It is vital that lessons are learned. That means much needed reform of governance arrangements for future vessel projects. But it also means a change in the way the Government and its agencies conduct themselves and are accountable to Parliament and the people. That is a challenge for the Permanent Secretary and the new first minister.”

Further recommendations for improvement included greater transparency where Scottish Ministers use written authority and shareholder authorisations and recording these occasions as a matter of public record.

MSPs have also suggested the Scottish Government further reviews and refines its record-keeping and reporting procedures and ensure its Business Investment Framework is sufficient robust so there is transparency around the expected public benefit of future interventions in private companies, and greater public reporting.