MINISTERS have come under fire after being unable to confirm any meaningful changes over the procurement of ferries a year after it was branded "not fit for purpose" by a parliamentary inquiry.

The Holyrood probe into the construction of two overdue and over-budget ferries to serve the lifeline CalMac ferry network described the management of the process as a “catastrophic failure” and called for a “root and branch overhaul” of the approach to the procurement of new vessels in Scotland.

The Scottish Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity (REC) Committee, which launched its inquiry in October 2019, demanded an independent review of the ferry procurement process after concluding that the established procedures are “no longer fit for purpose”.

Scotland's biggest statutory regional transport agency, the Highlands and Islands Transport Partnership (HITRANS) is among those who called into question the decision making which has led to the country's ferry building fiasco and has previously demanded an independent review.

The concerns are over "the closed group" of decision making from what are Scottish Government-controlled bodies - Transport Scotland as funders, the procuring and ferry owning company, Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL), operators Calmac and shipbuilders Ferguson Marine which is now state-run.

READ MORE: High-powered ScotGov-formed ferry advisory group fails to meet for two years as lifeline services wilt

The Ferguson Marine shipyard in Port Glasgow which was awarded a £97 million contract to build two ferries, designated Glen Sannox and Hull 802, collapsed into administration last August and was taken into state ownership by the Scottish Government.

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The two lifeline ferries which were due to be in service in early 2018 are now up to nearly five years behind schedule. 

Finance secretary Kate Forbes has confirmed in an answer to a question from Highlands and Islands MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston that any changes to Scottish procurement are published and focussed on dealing with Covid and "driving more social economic outcomes and best practice".

She said: "Those policy changes bear no correlation to the rural economy and connectivity committee report on its inquiry into construction and procurement of ferry vessels in Scotland. So there have been no recent changes to procurement legislation."

The Scottish Conservatives' shadow minister for business, trade, tourism and enterprise.

Mr Halcro Johnson further asked if lessons would be learned from the failures surrounding the unfinished ferries at the Ferguson Marine shipyard.

Ms Forbes said: "CMAL do continue to employ more robust processes following lessons learned in previous projects and output from the REC committee including employing a shipbroker early in the process to provide a richer understanding of the market, enhancing the level of evidence required from bidders around finance refunds and technical abilities and undertaking site visits at ITT [invitation to tender] stage.

"So I hope that gives the member some reassurance that lessons have been learned and are being learned. "

Mr Halcro Johnston has expressed “surprise and disappointment” after the finance ministers failed to confirm any changes in public procurement rules had taken place.

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He said: "I am, frankly, amazed that she had absolutely nothing concrete to say in her responses to my questions.

“Surely, there must be some lessons to be learnt from a situation that has left the delivery of vital ferries several years late and tens of millions of pounds of over-budget?

“And, surely, we could have expected some signs of the Government urgently addressing the shortcomings, and putting them right?

“Instead, all we heard were some bland meaningless phrases and not a hint to suggest any real action was going to happen anytime soon.

“Island communities deserve far better than this and, I am sure, will share my surprise and disappointment at such an unsatisfactory response, especially from a minister who, like me, represents island communities.”

The Alba Party, the pro-independence party led by Alex Salmond echoed concerns about the nation's ferry procurement and ownership process in September and called for radical change including the scrapping of the owners of CMAL.

They have been calling for the creation of a new single Ferries Scotland body which would see the amalgamation of CalMac, CMAL, and the shipyard for the procurement, design, construction, and operation of Scotland’s ferry fleet.

The party said the move was essential as a result of "CMAL’s disastrous procurement arrangements" for the construction of the two lifeline ferries.

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Ferguson Marine, led by tycoon Jim McColl went into administration in August, 2019 following a dispute with CMAL over the construction of the ferries under the fixed price contract.

The Scottish Government pushed ahead to take full control of of the shipyard company as then owner, tycoon Jim McColl blaming repeated design changes by CMAL for the issues in building the vessels.

Some 16 of state-owned ferry operator CalMac's 31 working ferries deployed across Scotland are now over 25 years old.