NICOLA Sturgeon has been accused of rushing a critical announcement on the disastrous CalMac ferries deal in order to “grandstand” over the UK government.
Jim McColl, former owner of the Ferguson Marine yard on the Clyde, said the First Minister’s decision to make a show of the yard’s preferred bidder status was “strange” and premature.
He suggested she did it to upstage then Tory Chancellor George Osborne, who was announcing a £500million UK Government investment in Faslane naval base the same day.
Ms Sturgeon announced the yard was the preferred bidder on the £97m contract for two CalMac ferries on 31 August 2015, despite concerns behind the scenes.
CMAL, the state-owned ferry procurement body, was alarmed that the yard was unable to provide a builders refund guarantee and wanted to re-tender the contract.
The boats are now £150m over budget and five years late.
Ms Sturgeon told MSPs today she was aware of ongoing talks between the yard and CMAL, but insisted she knew of no “red flags” and there was nothing unusual in her personally announcing the preferred bidder status – something critics say made it harder to back out as concerns grew.
But Mr McColl told broadcaster LBC today that the contract had been “terrible” and badly prepared by CMAL, and it looked like the Scottish Government tried to “push this through for political reasons”.
He said: “One strange thing that she [Ms Sturgeon] did was when we were announced as the preferred bidder.
“You still have to negotiate the contract after that. So you don’t normally make too much of it at that stage. It’s to give you the opportunity to deal on a one-to-one basis with CMAL, the government entity.
“But she turned up at the yard with the whole camera crew and everything, grandstanding, to announce that we were preferred bidder.
“Now, you just don’t do that at that stage. You would normally announce us as preferred bidder, but in a less dramatic way.
“But that happened to be the same morning that George Osborne was coming up to Scotland to announce a £500m pound investment in the Naval Yard up there and 1000 new jobs over the following three years. So this kind of upstaged the British government.”
He also said he thought the first of the ferries, the Glen Sannox, would enter service, but there was “maybe a question mark over the second one”.
In her evidence, Ms Sturgeon said Ferguson Marine and its managers had yet to take their share of the blame, noting they agreed to build the boats then failed to follow through.