SNP members of the committee probing the Ferguson Marine ferries fiasco have launched an extraordinary broadside at their group’s chair, accusing him of “significantly embellish[ing] the actual substance” to chase headlines.

Public Audit Committee (PAC) convener Richard Leonard, the former Scottish Labour leader, and the other opposition politicians on the committee were accused of rushing the report through in order to publish before Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation took effect.

The long-awaited and highly critical report was published on Thursday, ahead of Sturgeon’s final appearance at FMQs.

The committee found that taxpayers and island communities were “badly let down” by many of those involved in the project, including Sturgeon herself.

The PAC’s 124-page looks at the troubled programme to build the Glen Sannox and the as-yet-unnamed hull 802, which are now five years late and with a price tag nearly tripled to almost £300 million.

The National:

The decision to publicly announce Ferguson Marine Engineering Ltd (FMEL) – then owned by Monaco-based billionaire Jim McColl (below with Sturgeon) – as the preferred bidder in 2015 came in for particular criticism.

Sturgeon personally attended the shipyard for the announcement, and the committee said the move “almost certainly” weakened the negotiating position of the ferry-owning body CMAL when problems emerged later.

The report reads: “Given that it was clear that considerable negotiations were still required, we question the First Minister’s decision to publicly announce the preferred bidder.

“In light of the contradictory views on offer, further explanation should have been sought by ministers before the final decision was taken.

“The committee is not convinced that such a public announcement was necessary or indeed appropriate for this project, especially at that time, given the considerable work and negotiation that was required before CMAL could take a decision to award the formal contract.”

The National: McColl and Sturgeon at launch of Glen Sannox

The two SNP members of the committee, Willie Coffey and Colin Beattie, did not support this part of the findings, and later released an extraordinary statement attacking their fellow committee members: Leonard, and Scottish Tories Sharon Dowey and Craig Hoy.

The SNP members said: “In nationalising the yard in [2019], Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP Scottish Govemment saved hundreds of Scottish jobs, created many more, and delivered a lifeline for the future of shipbuilding on the Clyde.

“The headlines chased by the committee convener significantly embellish the actual substance of the report, which offers very little in the way of new information.

“Despite six months of work (and more than 16 hours of evidence) through this inquiry, the committee has largely failed in its core purpose – to determine how public money was spent and whether that represents value for money.

“Instead, opposition politicians chose to rush through the report before the First Minister stood down and pursued a narrow political agenda at the expense of workers at the yard who are committed to delivering these vessels."

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Responding, a Scottish Labour source told the Scotsman: "This kind of cultish refusal to accept any blame on behalf of the SNP is the exact opposite of what MSPs are on the committee to do.

"Ultimately the question is this, if everything is as fine and dandy as they claim, where are the ferries?"

A number of recommendations were made by the committee in the report, including greater transparency and record-keeping. Other members of the government and public agencies also came in for criticism.

The committee expressed “serious concern” at then infrastructure secretary Keith Brown’s failure to answer key questions about his role in the awarding of the contract.

It said former transport minister Derek Mackay (below) showed “poor judgment” in sending an email to a constituency MSP, which FMEL interpreted as waiving its requirement to provide a builders refund guarantee.

The National: Derek Mackay in front of the Glen Sannox

The auditor general is still investigating the procurement process for the contract, following claims made in a BBC Disclosure documentary.

The committee was also frustrated by delays in receiving evidence from Transport Scotland officials, leaving them questioning the level of “respect” shown to parliamentary scrutiny.

Transport Scotland “consistently failed to accurately and timeously reflect CMAL’s significant concerns to Scottish ministers”, the MSPs said.

It is “particularly concerning”, they said, that no full record exists of a meeting between Sturgeon and McColl from May 2017.

The Scottish Government has produced an email discussing the contents of the meeting but no full minutes.

It is still unclear how large amounts of public money were spent during McColl’s ownership of the yard, the report notes.

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Responding to the committee’s findings, a Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government welcomes the report from the PAC. We will study its findings carefully before issuing a full response to the committee.

“Changes have already been put in place to address many of the issues raised. This includes working with the shipyard’s senior management team to improve governance and accountability and revising processes for vessel procurement.

“The Scottish Government is committed to transparency and has proactively published more than 200 documents on its website. We have co-operated at every stage of the PAC inquiry, as well as those previously undertaken by the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee and Audit Scotland.

“Ministers have apologised for the delay to the ferries and the distress and difficulty caused.

“We are committed to their completion, securing a sustainable future for the yard and supporting our island communities that rely on this type of vessel on a daily basis.”