Major problems remain unresolved at the shipyard constructing two lifeline ferries for Scottish islands. That’s the conclusion of a report by Audit Scotland on the project to deliver Vessels 801 and 802 for the Clyde and Hebrides.
The total cost of the project is currently estimated to be at least £240 million, around two and a half times the original contract price. Audit Scotland goes on to say that these issues have frustrated island communities and weakened resilience across Scotland’s ferry network.
The Scottish Government took over control of the Ferguson Marine shipyard in Port Glasgow over two years ago so that two lifeline ferries could be completed and ensured the workforce would continue to be employed. At the time it had the support of the trade unions. Commenting in 2019 Unite Scottish Secretary, Pat Rafferty, said:
“Unite fully supports the actions of the Scottish Government to intervene and nationalise Ferguson Marine shipyards. It’s clear at this stage that nationalisation was the only serious option on the table to save the yard and more than 350 highly skilled jobs. The Scottish Government have rightly acknowledged their obligations to the workforce, and the people the ferries would serve which must be acknowledged. “
And GMB Scotland Organiser and CSEU Scotland Chair, Gary Cook, said:
“Nationalisation secures the immediate future of the yard and that is a very welcome development, particularly after all the recent uncertainty.
“Our members were caught in the middle of a situation that had nothing to do with them and their relief will be palpable. It is five years since the yard went bust and the Scottish Government has prevented that from happening again.
“We can now look to the future and everyone should do so with a sense of purpose. With vision and competency we can get on with building the ships Scotland needs and together we can grow jobs and prosperity on the lower Clyde.”
The Audit Scotland reports on ‘multiple failures’ in completing the lifeline ferries. Stephen Boyle, Auditor General for Scotland, said:
“The failure to deliver these two ferries, on time and on budget, exposes a multitude of failings. A lack of transparent decision-making, a lack of project oversight, and no clear understanding of what significant sums of public money have achieved. And crucially, communities still don’t have the lifeline ferries they were promised years ago.
“The focus now must be on overcoming significant challenges at the shipyard and completing the vessels as quickly as possible. Thoughts must then turn to learning lessons to prevent a repeat of problems on future new vessel projects and other public sector infrastructure projects.”
Rhoda Grant, Highlands and Islands Labour MSP , who represents the communities served by the ferries said:
“The Audit Scotland Report evidences not just a catalogue of mistakes, but that the wrong choice was actively made time and time again with no ability to foresee consequences or listen to the risks even when they were presented by the Government’s own quangos on a silver platter.
“From taking gold standard international contracts and removing the meaningful safeguards to refusing to listen to industry experts, the arrogance of this Government is astounding and the ones suffering are the communities affected.
“The Government needs to apologise to these communities immediately and start fixing this problem instead of trapping them in this loop of degrading fleets and infrastructure.”
Orkney Constituency MSP LibDem Liam McArthur said:
“While the calamities on the west coast routes have grabbed the headlines, the situation in Orkney is scarcely less precarious. Despite the best efforts of crews, Orkney’s ageing ferry fleet now falls far below the government’s own minimum standards and desperately need to be replaced.
“Scottish Ministers cannot simply wait until crisis point to help with the procurement of new ferries to operate the lifeline routes in Orkney. The current fleet is increasingly unreliable, costly to run and damaging for the environment.
“As Audit Scotland has identified, we need a proper, strategic plan for a phased procurement of new vessels with delivery on time and to budget. SNP Ministers cannot ignore this latest wake up call.”