Auditor General slams ‘glib’ response

Controversy over “missing” paper-work relating to the decision to place the order for Hulls 801 and 802 with the Ferguson shipyard has intensified against a background of more ferry chaos.

By Brian Wilson
Thursday, 28th April 2022, 10:50 am
A number of images were released this week to show progress on Hull 802, but real concern still exists over the awarding of the original contract.

Arran has been at the sharp end due to the breakdown of the 29 year-old Caledonian Isles which is not due to return for another week. Hull 801 is destined for the Arran route while 802 should serve Uig-Tarbert-Lochmaddy. Both are five years late.

Scottish Government ministers are facing allegations they rushed the contract through for political reasons. Former First Minister, Jack McConnell, has said the lack of record-keeping is probably a criminal offence and the police should be called in.

Following a report by the Auditor General for Scotland, the spotlight turned on how the contract was awarded against the strong advice of CMAL and with none of the usual safeguards in place to limit exposure of the public purse.

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The Auditor General, Stephen Boyle, Holyrood’s Public Audit Committee: “We are in effect saying that Transport Scotland advised ministers of the nature of the risks, allowing for CMAL’s significant concerns and its position that the contract should be retendered, but that ministers took a view that they wished to proceed with the contract, cognisant of those risks.

“As we set out in the report, there is no documentary evidence of how those risks were considered or how it was intended that they would be managed during the running of the contract.

“Transparency is hugely important; it matters that important decisions of this nature are set out and recorded. However, through our audit work, we have not been provided with any evidence that sets out how those risks would be managed”.

His colleague, Gill Miller, said: “We asked Transport Scotland and the Scottish Government for all documentation relating to the minister’s decision, but we did not receive any ... so we do not know on what basis ministers decided to accept the risks and proceed with the contract award”.

Mr Boyle added: “Our understanding … is that there is no documentary evidence to support that decision, which was of such significance. That led us, clearly, to the conclusion that there really ought to have been a level of documentation given the unusual scale of the risks”.

“In finalising the report, we have recommended a fuller review of what happened. It feels too glib to use phrases such as “lessons learned”, given the circumstances surrounding the contract for a project that is now many years late and two-and-a-half times the original budget, and we need a fuller review to establish how such things ought to be delivered in future”.

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, said she understood the decision to award the contract “was taken within a day. Is that normal? How would you expect a decision of such magnitude to be taken within Government

Mr Boyle replied: “Some decisions will be taken at pace, and others will be more considered … However, as we have sought to set out clearly in the report, decisions of significance that involve risks coming back to the public sector ought to be documented for public record”.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​