MINISTERS have been warned they have acted unlawfully by failing to give nationalised shipbuilder Ferguson Marine a look in for a £100m contract to create two new lifeline ferries to serve Islay.

Scottish Government-controlled Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL), which owns the nation's ageing ferry fleet, have invited four overseas companies to bid for the contract to build the two vessels - and excluded the Inverclyde shipbuilder.

But the finance secretary has had a meeting with two Inverclyde councillors who believe that the tender process is unlawful.

The ground-breaking Procurement Reform (Scotland) Act 2014 when it was brought was seen by many as a welcome move away from contracts awarded only on the basis of the lowest price towards those which offer the best long-term outcomes for Scotland’s communities and the environment.

Public contracts valued at £4m or above have specific requirements in relation to community benefits in the authority area that a contract is issued.

HeraldScotland:

These should include training and recruitment, the availability of sub-contracting opportunities and that it is intended to improve the economic, social or environmental well-being of the area.

If no community benefits are sought in a contract, a statement must be published on justifying the decision.

Inverclyde councillors Jim McEleny and Chris McEleny have raised their concerns about the lawfulness of the process with Kate Forbes arguing the Port Glasgow yard should be used for the steady pipeline of work needed to support ferries and that would be the foundation to see further job growth the area.

The successful bids were from Damen Shipyard in Romania, Remontowa Shipbuilding in Poland, and Turkish shipyards Sefine Denizcilik Tersanecilik Turizm, and Cemre Marin Endustri.

It was confirmed Ferguson Marine embarked in a bid for the contract through the initial Pre-Qualification Questionnaire process but failed to make the shortlist.

The nationalised shipbuilder said it was "a disappointing outcome".

It comes a matter of days after Alex Salmond's Alba party called on ministers to directly award all future CalMac ferry orders to nationalised Ferguson Marine.

Now the Alba Party councillors have said they cannot see any possibility of there being any community benefits for Inverclyde from a contract that is delivered in Romania, Poland, or Turkey.

And they say that major tenders must include “a summary of the community benefit requirements it intends to include in the contract” but the tender from Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL), the taxpayer-funded company which owns and procures ferries does not set this information out, instead stating that community benefits are applicable in line with Scottish Government guidelines.

HeraldScotland:

Chris McEleny, who is also the general secretary of Alex Salmond's Alba Party said: "Legislation makes clear that if community benefits are part of this tender then they should be set out to explain the benefits that will be brought to the area. However, the tender published by CMAL fails to set out what these community benefits will be, whether that’s training opportunities for local people, the availability of sub-contracting opportunities for local trades, or activities intended to improve the economic, social or environmental wellbeing of the area.

"Of course, it’s no surprise that lucrative contracts to build Scottish ferries in Turkey, Poland or Romania would struggle to set out what the benefits of the construction work will be to Scottish communities but to not set this out may well be a breach of the Procurement Act, so having raised this matter directly with Scottish Government ministers and civil servants they must now intervene to investigate."

Ferguson Marine which runs the last remaining shipyard on the lower Clyde was nationalised after it financially collapsed in August 2019, amid soaring costs and delays to the construction of two lifeline island ferries.

It came five years after tycoon Jim McColl first rescued the yard when it went bust.

The delivery of new island ferries MV Glen Sannox and Hull 802, which were due online in the first half of 2018, was found to be between four and five years late, with costs doubling to over £200m.

In June it emerged that the completion of the long-overdue ferries had been delayed again, with Ferguson Marine blaming the coronavirus pandemic and a shortage of skilled labour.

HeraldScotland:

The Islay route is already one of the busiest services for freight on the Clyde and Hebrides network, and CMAL says that the incoming ferries will support the island’s vital economic activity. The four shortlisted shipyards will now submit their technical and commercial proposals for the design and construction of the two vessels.

CMAL said that each submission will be rigorously assessed against "quality, technical and commercial criteria", and the contract will be awarded to the winning shipyard no later than the end of March 2022.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “While it is disappointing that Ferguson Marine was unsuccessful on this occasion, we are fully committed to supporting the yard to secure a sustainable future, including a pipeline of future work, to help protect jobs and commercial shipbuilding on the Clyde. The Scottish Government stands firm on our commitment to the vessels, the workforce and the yard at Ferguson.”