Swinney on ferry public inquiry: ‘It’s for others to judge’

Scottish Government Deputy First Minister John Swinney refused to rule out an independent judge-led inquiry into the Ferguson ferry debacle, amid fresh revelations over the awarding of the contract.

By Murray MacLeod
Thursday, 19th May 2022, 8:59 am
John Swinney visited Lewis this week for a "turf-cutting" ceremony on the new £49 million deep water port facility near Arnish.
John Swinney visited Lewis this week for a "turf-cutting" ceremony on the new £49 million deep water port facility near Arnish.

During a visit to Lewis on Monday to mark the start of construction work on a new £49 million deep-water port facility in Stornoway, Mr Swinney had to fend of questions on the on-going row over the delayed vessels, which are currently five years behind schedule and will cost in excess of £250m, tens of millions more than the original £97m price tag. One of the ferries, Hull 802, is due for the Tarbert-Lochmaddy-Skye triangle.

Previously, First Minister Nicol Sturgeon categorically dismissed calls for a public inquiry, insisting all the available information was already in the public domain.

However, Mr Swinney appeared to signal a softening of that stance.

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Last week, it emerged that as finance minister he had approved the contract along with the then transport minister Derek MacKay, despite concerns from civil servants and the Scottish Government’s procuring agency, CMAL.

Fielding questions from local journalists, Mr Swinney said: “The absolute priority has to be the completion of the two vessels at the Ferguson yard.

"I’m very sorry for the delays and what that has meant for islanders and the government has recognised that. But our absolute focus is on completing the ferries. Questions on a public inquiry can be considered in due course.”

Pressed on whether the calls are justified, given fresh revelations emerging every week, he said: “I don’t have a view on that. It’s for others to judge. What I’m focussed on is that the vessels are completed.

“There have been a number of inquiries already. There’s a parliamentary committee inquiry. Audit Scotland have looked at it. There are thousands and thousands of pages publicly available on this contract on the government websites. I think it’s been explored and investigated.”

In terms of his role in awarding the contract as finance minister, he said Ferguson had been identified as the “preferred bidder”.

“The fin ancial risks were all assessed as part of the decision-making process,” he said. “What’s important now is that we concentrate on completing these vessels and making sure they are in operation and providing a service to the islands.”

Mr Swinney’s role in the awarding of the contract to the Ferguson yard came under scrutiny after an internal government document showed he gave it “budget approval”.

Scottish Conservative Leader Douglas Ross called on him to make a statement in the parliament after his role in the process was revealed.