EDUCATION Secretary Michael Russell has sparked fresh controversy by backing calls for an investigation into alleged "maladministration and negligence" within the Scottish Government.

The Argyll and Bute MSP has written to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, which investigates complaints against public bodies, saying it should look into Transport Scotland's role in overseeing a publicly funded ferry service on the Clyde estuary between Gourock and Dunoon.

Civil servants at the Government agency have come under fire after two vehicle-carrying ferries were replaced in April 2011 with two passenger-only vessels operated by Argyll Ferries, a sister company to publicly owned CalMac, which have been condemned by locals as "bathtub boats" that are unreliable and prone to cancellation in bad weather.

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The Dunoon Gourock Ferry Action Group (DGFAG ) has now asked the Ombudsman to examine alleged "negligence, maladministration and system failure" at Transport Scotland, accusing it of delivering a service that was not fit for purpose.

Gordon Blair, an SNP councillor for Cowal, and secretary of DGFAG, said: "It's not only the current SNP administration. There's been misinformation through several administrations in the way it's all been done. When you look at the vessels they have operating on these routes, you have to ask how on earth they were deemed appropriate for the weather we have got."

When contacted by The Herald, Mr Russell declined to comment on the merits of the complaint but said there was a need to investigate it.

His intervention has been welcomed by Conservatives.

A Transport Scotland spokesman said: "As this matter is being considered by the public service ombudsman we are not able to comment further in relation to this complaint."