Scotland’s Auditor General has expressed his frustration at not being able to review all documentation relating the awarding of a contract for two ferries fraught with delays and overspends.
A recent report from Audit Scotland found there was “insufficient documentary evidence” to explain why the contract was given to Port Glasgow-based Ferguson Marine without a full refund guarantee.
In the years since the contract was awarded, the yard has been saved from administration by the Scottish Government, and the estimated delivery of the vessels has been pushed back by five years, along with an increase in costs from £97 million to at least £250 million.
The Glen Sannox and the as-yet-unnamed hull 802 are now expected to be completed between March and May 2023 and between October and December 2023 respectively.
But, while he expressed his frustration at the lack of documentation, Stephen Boyle told the Public Audit Committee that he believes a record was not created at the time and the Scottish Government is not withholding details.
“There’s clearly a frustration from us that we weren’t able to review what we would consider to be all the relevant evidence,” he said.
“Our judgment is not that evidence has been withheld from us during the course of our audit work, but rather that an important piece of documentary evidence wasn’t prepared to arrive at the judgment that ministers arrived at – to accept the scale of risk so unusual in the scale of this contract and contrary to the advice of the public body (Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited) which oversees the contract.”
He added: “I’m sure it’s a matter that the Civil Service will want to reflect on, about how they best document important decisions that significantly influence not just the use of public money but the provision of extremely important aspects of public services.”
Opposition MSPs failed in their efforts to force ministerial resignations if there are more delays to the ships, with a motion by the Scottish Liberal Democrats being amended by the Government, removing the calls for ministers to quit.
Committee convener Richard Leonard invited Mr Boyle back to give evidence again next week, before a decision on next steps – which reports suggest could include holding a short inquiry into the scandal – is taken.
Mr Leonard said: “Given the significance of the issues and volume of detail in the Audit Scotland report, the committee has decided to take further evidence next week with the Auditor General.
“Following the completion of this evidence-gathering, we will decide our next steps.”