MINISTERS have rejected the "catastrophic failure" conclusion of an inquiry into the procurement of two lifeline Scots ferries which have hampered by soaring costs and up to five years of delay.

Connectivity Secretary Paul Wheelhouse has hit back at the results of an extensive investigation by Holyrood's Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee insisting the government took "balanced, informed decisions following appropriate diligence and independent advice" and that securing hundreds of skilled jobs cannot represent failure.

Scottish Liberal Democrat rural economy and connectivity committee member Mike Rumbles described it as an "appalling" response.

Ferguson Marine's financial collapse in August, 2019 led to a state takeover, while the delivery of two lifeline island ferries MV Glen Sannox and Hull 802 which were due online in the first half of 2018 will be between four and five years late.

The owners of the last civilian Clyde shipyard went into administration following a dispute with Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd - the taxpayer-funded company which buys and leases publicly owned CalMac's ships on behalf of the Scottish government - as the price of the construction of the ferries under a £97m fixed price contract more than doubled.

Former Ferguson Marine managers subsequently accused the Scottish Government of having no serious intention of leaving it in private ownership while being warned nationalisation would be subject to EU state aid laws.

READ MORE: Ministers accused of 'abuse of power' by ex-Ferguson Marine chiefs deny corruption

Around £45m in Scottish Government loans to keep the yard afloat have also been written off.

In their 129-page report, MSPs called for a “root-and-branch overhaul” of the ferry procurement process, declaring that established procedures are “no longer fit for purpose”.

The report in December said the Scottish Government was too willing to press ahead with the ferry project despite the risks involved and stated CMAL and Transport Scotland’s due diligence was “inadequate”.

It also found “strong evidence” to suggest Ferguson Marine continued to build the ships incorrectly to ensure it would receive “milestone payments” that CMAL was legally obliged to give it after completion of certain stages of the project.

The Herald:

But Mr Wheelhouse has hit back saying: "While there are lessons to be learned, which we have acknowledged, we do not accept the Committee’s description of a 'catastrophic failure'.

"In the face of contractor non-performance at the yard in relation to 801 and 802, the Scottish Ministers took action to secure the future delivery of the vessels to serve the island communities which rely upon them, to secure the employment associated with continuation of those vessel contracts, and to secure the future of the yard in Inverclyde.

"Scottish Ministers took balanced, informed decisions following appropriate diligence and independent advice. In reluctantly accepting increased cost and timescale for the delivery of the vessels, Scottish Ministers have acted and have secured hundreds of skilled jobs and wider economic activity. I do not regard those difficult decisions to represent a failure."

Speaking about the two boats, the minister insisted: “I am satisfied that procurements in relation to 801 and 802 were undertaken fastidiously, in good faith and following appropriate due diligence.”

He said the CMAL was “already introducing improvements to its own processes” – but stressed that “these improvements should not be viewed as criticism of the process adopted in relation to 801 and 802, but build upon best practice exhibited in other areas”.

READ MORE: Revealed: Court action plunges controversial state takeover of Ferguson Marine into chaos

Mr Wheelhouse set out the Scottish Government’s view, that “contractor failure has been a very significant factor in the difficulties we have seen arise”.

And he said there was “disappointment” from ministers that the report did not “better reflect the contribution of the contractor’s non-performance, contract management and financial management” in relation to the problems experienced with the construction of the ferries.

But the response has been treated with disdain by opposition parties.

The Herald:

Conservative infrastructure spokesman Graham Simpson hit out and said: “The SNP are in total denial over their ferries fiasco. The minister responsible is effectively saying that there is nothing to see here and that nothing has gone wrong.

“The cost of these two ferries has spiralled out of control and they are still not even built yet, which has been a disgraceful failure for the communities which rely on them.

“It is yet another prime example of the SNP splashing the cash but failing to deliver the infrastructure on the ground.”

Mr Rumbles attacked the government for an “appalling government response to the committee’s unanimous report”.

Mr Rumbles added: “The failure to accept that there was a catastrophic failure in the procurement process suggests ministers have their hands over their eyes and their fingers in their ears.

“Meanwhile, the government’s response criticising the committee’s report for not blaming the contractor enough suggests that complacency is well entrenched in the Scottish Government, with an almost complete lack of understanding of the reality of their mistakes from the start to the finish of this sad episode.

“To top it off the Scottish Government does not even mention in their response the millions of pounds lost to the taxpayer.

 “This is the worst Government response to a committee report I have ever seen. The minister must immediately appear before the committee to answer for this dereliction of duty.”