The former owner of beleaguered shipyard firm Ferguson Marine has said there has been no proper probe into Scotland's ferry fiasco which he has described as "possibly the biggest waste of public funds since the Scottish Government was formed".

Tycoon Jim McColl said the the public spending auditor must be sanctioned to carry out a deeper investigation which should include the reasons for the soaring costs of the delivery of two lifeline ferries that remain incomplete at Ferguson Marine's Inverclyde yard.

He says a ministerial order should be given that he believes should kickstart a full forensic probe into what happened while he was in control of Ferguson Marine - believing that the depth of the "scandal has not been properly exposed".

Ministers are being urged to sanction a special order to allow public spending auditors to carry out a full investigation into where the money went before Ferguson Marine was nationalised.

It comes after ministers were told to act to make a special order to allow public spending auditors to carry out a full investigation into the soaring costs of Scotland's ferry fiasco.

READ MORE: Concern over future of ferry fiasco ships after safety audit fail

Audit Scotland has confirmed it has been hampered in their attempts to establish where pre-nationalisation Ferguson Marine Engineering Limited (FMEL) spent over £128.25m in public money in relation to the building of two long-delayed lifeline ferries before it was nationalised.

The Herald: Nicola Sturgeon and Jim McColl

It is believed that a special order will allow that to happen.

But Mr McColl says any further investigation should go much further - and should look into why the costs went up.

Two lifeline ferries for Scottish Government-owned CalMac were ordered in 2015 when Ferguson Marine was owned by Mr McColl, a then pro-independence businessman who rescued the Inverclyde shipyard firm from administration a year earlier.

After Mr McColl's FMEL entered administration in August 2019 amidst delivery delays and escalating costs, the tycoon blamed delays and cost overruns of then an estimated £60m on late design changes. The government-owned ferry owning and procurement agency Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) blamed the yard for the issues.

By then Ferguson Marine had received £83.25m in milestone payments from CMAL and £45 million in loan payments from the Scottish Government - yet the vessels were largely incomplete.

Delivery under the nationalised and renamed Ferguson Marine (Port Glasgow) is now over six years late with costs expected to quadruple compared to the original £97m contract costs.

But Audit Scotland said there are legal issues getting in the way of their attempts to properly scrutinise where the money went at FMEL.

READ MORE: ScotGov told to make special order to allow tracing of 'lost' £128m ferry money

That is because they say they do not have the statutory powers to undertake a forensic analysis of FMEL's records as it is was a private company, and therefore not a specified body subject to scrutiny under the Public Finance and Accountability (Scotland) 2000.

The public spending regulator has said that ministers would have to make a special order to make FMEL a body subject to scrutiny under the Act.

The Herald:

Mr McColl, one of Scotland's wealthiest men, said he wants the order to kickstart a fuller probe into the scandal, including allowing the public spending auditor not just to look at where the money went, but to properly investigate why the costs went up saying: "If they get the powers, they will be able to get into deeper. And maybe look more into the reasons why the costs went up.

"It will certainly allow them, if they do their job properly and audit, look at where the money went.

"It will show that all the money went into the ferries. The spending was tightly controlled by [professional services consultants] PwC.

"There was no leeway for us to do anything other than to use it for the ferries."

He said he had already been pushing Audit Scotland for a deeper dig into what happened and "check source documents".

He has called on Audit Scotland to change the record that states that the contract was not a fixed price contract. CMAL and ministers have insisted this was the case.

Issues over whether it was a fixed price led to CMAL refuting a claim for £67m over the £97m proposed price to complete the ferries under Mr McColl's Ferguson Marine.

The Scottish Government concluded two months before Mr McColl's Ferguson Marine went under four years ago that there was no legal basis for CMAL to pay more than what it said was a £97m fixed price.

Mr McColl, who is one of the key forces behind Scotland's newest bank, Alba, says if the extra costs claim had not been rejected because of the idea that it was a fixed price, the ferries would have been built for just £200m rather than the current costing.

The Herald:

The modifications clause.

The full unredacted contract for the building of the first of the two ferries, Glen Sannox , seen by the Herald, states that the buyer [CMAL] had the right to request "reasonable modifications and changes" and that the consequences "may include changes in the contract price, delivery date, capacity, draft, speed, fuel consumption, or any other provisions of this contract".

Another clause states that sums due or refundable as a result of "modifications and changes" shall be added to or deducted from the "final instalment".

"It is clearly not a fixed price contract and allows for CMAL to pay more for the ferries.

"I have challenged the Auditor General saying that they should be looking into the technical issues and he said he couldn't. He said he didn't have the right to do it. I have also told them they have underestimated the cost.

"So I don't know whether [seeking an order] is a reaction to questions I have been asking, but I think they need to dig deeper into it.

"I felt the Auditor General was hiding behind the fact that he didn't have the powers.

"Clearly they have decided to push to get the powers to look further.

"If they look into the records of FMEL, they will see what caused the extra costs.

The Herald: The Glen Sannox

"What nobody is picking up is that they are the reason it is late, because things kept changing.

"With a bit of luck, [Audit Scotland] will look at what caused the additional cost.

"This is probably the biggest waste, misuse of public funds since the Scottish Government was formed. The cost is way higher than what gets quoted. It is probably around £450m and could go to £500m. And that is a scandal.

"If this happened in the private sector the [people responsible] would be slaughtered. It is a scandal that this has not been properly exposed."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "The Scottish Government remains committed to being as open and transparent as possible in relation to decisions around Ferguson Marine (FMPG) and vessels 801 and 802, and has proactively published more than 200 documents on its website.

"We have co-operated at every stage of the recent public audit Committee inquiry, as well as those previously undertaken by the rural economy and connectivity committee and Audit Scotland.

“We have received a letter from the public audit committee and will respond in due course.”

A spokesman forCMAL said that it was "firmly focussed on the delivery of six new major vessels by the end of 2025 for the Clyde & Hebrides Ferry Service".

An Audit Scotland spokesman said: "We are content with the accuracy of our report. This has also been explored by the Scottish Parliament."