THE FIRST Minister has failed to commit to making a special order to allow public spending auditors to carry out a fuller investigation into the soaring costs of Scotland's ferry fiasco.

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.

Former FMEL owner, tycoon Jim McColl has supported moves for a deeper dive into what caused the costs to escalate.

But Humza Yousaf would not address the question of whether the order would be given when asked at the Scottish Parliament by Conservative shadow transport minister Graham Simpson.

Mr Simpson said: "The cost of building the Glen Sannox and and Glen Rosa is an ongoing scandal. We don't know when they'll be finished.

"We don't know what the final bill will be. And we don't know what's happened to all the money.

"The Auditor General says he needs extra powers in order to find out what's happened to £128m of money that was spent by FMEL Will the First Minister grant those powers?"

READ MORE: Jim McColl: Tycoon calls for deeper probe into Scotland's ferry fiasco

Mr Yousaf responded: "There has been a number of inquiries to which of course the Scottish Government and indeed those at Ferguson's have co-operated fully. Hundreds of documents that have been published and put into the public domain around what is happening in Ferguson's.

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"So I will not hesitate in apologising to island communities for the fact that they are still waiting for the completion of both [Glen Sannox and Glen Rosa]. What I won't do is apologise for the fact that the Scottish Government did step in and make sure that we secured and saved hundreds of jobs in Inverclyde."

The 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.

When Mr McColl's FMEL entered administration in August 2019, it had received £83.25m in milestone payments from the government-owned ferry owning and procurement agency Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) and £45 million in loan payments from the Scottish Government - yet the vessels were largely incomplete.

Delivery is now over six years late with costs expected to quadruple compared to the original £97m contract costs.

But Audit Scotland has said there were legal issues getting in the way of their attempts to properly scrutinise what happened at FMEL.

That is because they do not believe they have the statutory powers to undertake a forensic analysis of Ferguson Marine's records as it is not a specified body subject to scrutiny under he 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 Scottish Parliament's Public Audit Committee has submitted a request that the order be made by wellbeing economy secretary Neil Gray.

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Mr Simpson said: “It’s extraordinary that the First Minister can’t answer a simple question about whether he will provide the Auditor General with the powers he says he needs.

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

“So we’re none the wiser about what has happened to the £128million received by FMEL.

“After years of ongoing scandal surrounding the failure to provide lifeline ferries for island communities, Humza Yousaf is still fobbing them off with warm words and no answers.”

Included in the proposed scrutiny is the £83.25m of the £97m contract that was paid to Ferguson Marine by CMAL as milestone payments for the completion of the project - despite the fact they were largely incomplete.

Also included in the review is how two loans worth £45m that was given to the yard was spent.

The public spending watchdog said that while consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers was providing the Scottish Government with reports on FMEL spending, they did not go into detail on where the money went, so were "unable" to trace exactly how that money was spent and what progress was made on the vessels as a result.

Audit Scotland previously found that ministers went ahead with the contract despite the concerns raised by CMAL over the lack of financial guarantees that placed them at risk.

When the build ran into trouble, the shipyard firm fell into insolvency and was nationalised with the Scottish Government in control and with Mr McColl and CMAL blaming each other for the fiasco.

In an initial investigation into what happened before nationalisation, Auditor General Stephen Boyle said that records relation to transactions were "not organised or categorised".

It emerged in December that David Tydeman, chief executive of the now nationalised Ferguson Marine (Port Glasgow) had stated they have not sought to evaulate old files because they "do not add value to the planning or budgeting work still needed to complete the vessels".

The Public Audit Committee had written to ask him to account for the £240m that they said at that time had been spent on the two ferries.

Of this, £128.25m was paid to pre-nationalisation FMEL.