Tycoon takes legal route over Scots ferries

One of Scotland’s wealthiest men has disclosed he was gathering evidence to take legal action against SNP ministers over the ferry-building debacle that has cost taxpayers tens of millions of pounds.

Jim McColl, the former owner of Ferguson Marine Engineering (FMEL), said he was extremely concerned about the “loss” of £25 million of taxpayers’ money in a secret deal to “force” the nationalisation of his shipyard business.

He said key ministers, including Nicola Sturgeon, have not been held to account for the shambles – which has seen the cost of two new ferries more than double to £200 million – and he wanted a judge to cut through an alleged cover-up.

In particular, he questioned the legality of ministers waiving taxpayers’ money to allow the controversial nationalisation deal to go through.

The 69-year-old engineering tycoon says the millions lost through the foregoing of the ferry completion insurance should have gone towards completing the ferries.

Mr McColl, who is one of Ms Sturgeon’s hand-picked economic advisers, told the Sunday Herald: “My view is you would not expect to see what happened in any other democratic Western economy.”

Ferguson Marine was supposed to deliver two ferries to be used on CalMac’s west coast routes by 2018, but the vessels are now not expected to be completed until 2022 and 2023 respectively.

The contract was plagued by design changes, delays and disputes over cost, with the yard’s management and ferry owner Caledonian Maritime Assets (CMAL) blaming each other.

The Scottish Government is still owed over £40 million from the company’s collapse having used £7.5 million of what it was owed through loans to buy the business.

Mr McColl, the founder and chief executive of private equity investment firm Clyde Blowers, says that the waving of the £25 million meant that the nationalisation had effectively cost the taxpayer £32 million.

He said Derek Mackay, the disgraced former Finance Secretary, was "grandstanding, saying that he was nationalising the yard before it had even formally gone through the process of administration".

"And that was then stopping anyone else bidding for it, including us perhaps in partnership with someone else. They blocked any other commercial solution," he said.

“The problem they had was if a third-party buyer came in and bought it, they would be negotiating with CMAL on the price to finish those ferries. And CMAL would have had to pay for it. And that is who should be paying for it. The whole thing smells and what has been done is immoral. We have to find a legal approach to this and we are looking.”

The tycoon said he wanted a judge-led inquiry raised by MSPs but he may have to pursue a judicial review through the courts.

“You would end up with the proper story if people had to give evidence under oath, and a judge insisted that documents were released – then I think you would see a very different picture here," he added.

Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, said: "“This is a damning verdict from the former owner of Ferguson Marine and one of the SNP’s own economic advisers. SNP Ministers have continually failed to take any responsibility for their monumental failures in relation to this major infrastructure project.

“They have left island communities without lifeline ferries and blown millions of taxpayers’ money. It is little wonder that Jim McColl has reached the end of his tether and is demanding further action is taken."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "The Scottish Government stands firm on its commitment to the vessels, the workforce and the yard. The delivery of the vessels is critical to supporting the lifeline ferry network by adding two new badly needed vessels to the CalMac fleet."

He said a Holyrood committee had undertaken "detailed scrutiny" of the issue and "we have proactively published large volumes of information on our website."

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