SCOTTISH Government ministers are not to blame for the ferries fiasco, the former transport secretary who awarded the contract has said.

Derek Mackay, who quit as finance secretary in 2020 following a suspension from the SNP for messages sent to a teenage boy, said it was procurement agency Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL) that had a case to answer over the project.

CMAL has denied any impropriety.

The Glen Sannox and as-yet-unnamed Hull 802 being built at Ferguson Marine are now due to be delivered in 2023 and early 2024, at a potential cost of more than £300 million – three times the initial £97 million contract.

In March, Audit Scotland said there had been a “multitude of failings” in the delivery of the two ferries, which are still under construction at the shipyard in Port Glasgow.

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On Wednesday, in his first media interview since quitting government, Mackay told STV News that the contract should never have been put before the Scottish Government due to a lack of a "builders' refund guarantee" [BRG].

Such a safeguard would have placed the burden of risk around the project on the builders instead of the taxpayers.

Mackay said: “Why was it the case that a mandatory requirement wasn’t met?

“It arguably shouldn’t have been presented to ministers, it shouldn’t have been taken forward if it was a mandatory requirement.

“The anticipation was that Ferguson’s could complete these vessels on time and on budget. And the advice I was given, everyone was satisfied that that could be delivered.

“Therefore, the risk of the BRG being required was very low. Now that hasn’t transpired to be the case."

The National: Derek Mackay quit in 2020 after he was found to have been messaging a teenage boyDerek Mackay quit in 2020 after he was found to have been messaging a teenage boy

The disgraced politician said while the knew there was some risk, he said his assessment was based on the advice he had been given.

"That advice was that CMAL had given an assessment, an evaluation, of Ferguson’s bid, it was a strong bid, it was the best bid that had been received," he said.

“Ferguson’s had successfully built vessels for the CalMac fleet for a number of years – there was no suggestion that Ferguson’s couldn’t deliver these vessels, so we made the decision on that basis, with Ferguson’s having the strongest bid of all the competitors.

Mackay labelled the fiasco a "scandalous state of affairs" but said he didn't know whether it should be labelled a "scandal".

He said: "I don’t know (if it should be called a scandal). I don’t think so. I think that’s for other people to judge. It’s contract failure, certainly.

“I’ve said ‘contract failure’, because when we’ve had to deal with this issue in detail, it’s very important that I choose the right words. Other people can describe it as a scandal. That’s up to them.

“It’s a scandalous state of affairs. Maybe we can agree on those wordings.”

Mackay said while the surging cost of the project is "regrettable" the contract was signed with the "best intentions".

The National: The two ferries are over-budget and delayedThe two ferries are over-budget and delayed

He continued: “There was a lot of goodwill for Ferguson’s and there was a backdrop of cross-party political campaigning to support Ferguson’s, which was in difficulty, that had come out of administration.

“I welcomed the award of the contract because it was good for Inverclyde, it was good for shipbuilding, it was good for the workers and we thought it would be good for the CalMac fleet.

“Ministers acted lawfully at the time and I certainly acted lawfully at the time.

"I do think CMAL has a case to answer, but I don’t want to prejudice that because there is an investigation under way.

“What I do know is ministers had nothing to do with it; ministers were very clear in our intentions as to a proper legal procurement exercise that would deliver the best result.

“If there’s any wrongdoing or any impropriety that’s happened at the hands of a government agency, then they will have to answer for that.”

Scottish Conservative shadow transport minister Graham Simpson MSP said: "Derek Mackay’s interview leaves us none the wiser about what went wrong, and still not a single person has accepted any blame.

 “This was the then transport minister refusing to call £250 million of public money wasted on ferries, which islanders are still waiting to see, as a ‘scandal’.

 “The bottom line is this was a catastrophic decision by SNP politicians, and not one has taken responsibility for the years of delays and enormous costs it has led to.

 “Mr Mackay thought the risks of pushing on without the standard builder’s refund guarantee were low. He was spectacularly wrong. But he still can’t, or won’t, tell us why.

 “The public will regard that with astonishment, and his claim to have ‘acted with the best of intentions’ as woefully inadequate.

 “If we are ever to get to the bottom of arguably the greatest scandal in Holyrood’s history, there must be a full public inquiry as soon as possible. And heads must roll."

A spokesperson for Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd said: “CMAL takes very seriously the allegations made last year concerning the procurement of hulls 801 and 802.

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“In addition to a previous independent audit of the procurement process, a comprehensive investigation into those allegations is under way.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson added: “The Scottish Government remains committed to transparency and has proactively published over 200 documents relating to Ferguson Marine on our website, and fully supported inquiries by parliamentary committees and Audit Scotland.

“We deeply regret that the vessels are taking longer and costing more than they should, and we have already committed to a formal review upon completion.

“The Scottish Government’s priorities have always been the completion of the two ferries, securing a future for the yard and its workforce, and supporting our island communities that rely on this type of vessel on a daily basis.”