TENS of millions of pounds have been stripped out of Scotland’s island communities amid delays to two ferries caught up in a disastrous CalMac contract, MSPs have heard.

SNP ministers were also accused of “pouring public money down the drain” after it emerged the bid submitted by Ferguson Marine was the most expensive on offer.

Meanwhile, critics pointed to documents from 2015 which mentioned the relationship between SNP ministers and Ferguson Marine as a potential “presentational issue” when it came to awarding the contract.

The evidence emerged during an ongoing Holyrood inquiry into the fiasco at the recently nationalised Ferguson yard in Port Glasgow, which is being held by the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee.

Ferguson Marine, the last commercial yard on the Clyde, was bought by engineering tycoon Jim McColl’s Clyde Blowers empire in 2014, in a move partly brokered by former first minister Alex Salmond.

Mr McColl was a high-profile independence supporter and sits on the Scottish Government’s council of economic advisers.

The next year the yard won a £97 million contract to build two dual-fuel ferries for Caledonian Asset Management Limited (CMAL), the state-owned body behind CalMac.

However, disputes and a breakdown in relations eventually culminated in the yard falling into administration, before it was nationalised last year.

Islanders said delays to the two vessels – which are running four years late and will cost double their original budget – had contributed to an overstrained system.

One ferry is destined for the Arran route, and the second for the Skye, Harris and North Uist triangle.

Barra resident Eoin MacNeil, a member of the CalMac community board which was set up by the ferry firm to represent those who use its services, said: "We've had five occasions where we haven't had a ferry for five days.

“I came out on the ferry last Friday and we haven't had a ferry since then.

"This time of year the stores are empty, the shops are empty, the medical supplies are drying up."

Angus Campbell, chair of the board, said residents on Arran “reckon they’ve lost about £20 million out of their economy by the time that completed vessel will come on to service”.

Alf Baird, a former professor of maritime business at Edinburgh Napier University, said the whole public sector procurement process for ferries in Scotland was “amateur".

Earlier, he told MSPs: “Norway’s replacing 200 vessels every 20 years – 15 a year. We struggle to do five every 10 years, and they’re all wrong."

Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Mike Rumbles accused SNP ministers of wasting public money after it emerged they chose the most expensive of six shipyards tendering for the contract in 2015.

A partially redacted letter from Transport Scotland, written in August 2015, reveals Ferguson Marine was “the highest quality bid received but also the highest price”.

Under a section titled “presentational issues”, it said: “As with any procurement, a legal challenge from one of the unsuccessful shipyards cannot be discounted.

“CMAL have not identified any particular risks in this regard and, in any case, are confident that any challenge can be defended.

“That said, the relationship between Scottish ministers and Ferguson’s owner is well known.”

During the committee meeting, Mr Rumbles asked why it could be that "the highest bid of all, over the Scottish Government's own budget, was made and given to Ferguson".

Author and consultant Roy Pedersen, a member of the Scottish Government's Ferry Industry Advisory Group, told MSPs the ferries should be scrapped and the process started again.

Concerns were also raised about the type of fuel to be used by the ships – either diesel or liquefied natural gas (LNG). MSPs were told LNG would have to come from the south of England, meaning a 1,000-mile trip to the ferry terminal at Uig.

Mr Pedersen said this would "negate" the environmental advantage.

Speaking about the new vessels, he said: "Why build a ship with a capacity of 1,000 passengers for a route, namely the Uig routes, on which there has never been more than 312 passengers carried on any sailing?"

The Scottish Government said the ferry bids were assessed using a quality/price ratio of 50:50, and Ferguson achieved the highest score.