A FORMER First Minister is pushing for a police investigation after ministers were accused of breaking the law through a lack of transparency over the ferry fiasco which has seen two new lifeline vessels still out of service after six years and with costs spiralling to a quarter of a million pounds.

Public finance auditors expressed "frustration" over a lack of documentary evidence around why ministers were happy to accept the risks of proceeding with awarding the controversial £97m order to Ferguson Marine without mandatory refund guarantees from the shipbuilder.

Now Lord (Jack) McConnell has called has demanded the police investigate the missing documentation surrounding why ministers went ahead with granting the contract despite the concerns raised by the Government’s ferry procurement body, Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL) over the lack of financial guarantees that placed them at risk.

Scottish Parliament public audit committee convener Richard Leonard said correspondence between officials in the Scottish Government and at CMAL suggested there was a ministerial direction, but that it had not been appropriately recorded.

And he suggested that that the transparency failure was a breach of the Public Finance and Accountability Act.

A ministerial direction, or written authority, is a formal edict from ministers to proceed with a spending proposal despite objections from civil servants.

While Auditor General Stephen Boyle would not go as far as to say there was a breach, Lord McConnell, who led the Scotland government from 2001 to 2007, wants him to request that Police Scotland establish if the relevant documentation was removed or destroyed and, if so, whether a crime was committed.

HeraldScotland:

The auditors' examination of the issues said there was no documented evidence to confirm why Scottish ministers were willing to accept the risks of awarding the contract despite the concerns.

But the Herald on Sunday has previously revealed papers that showed that taxpayers lost over £80m after ministers provided a £106m special incentive to ensure that the contract could go through without the normal financial safeguards.

The deal was set up to ensure the CalMac ferries contract was given to Ferguson Marine in October, 2015, to reassure CMAL who had "severe misgivings" over the yard's inability to provide financial guarantees were not out of pocket if anything went wrong.

But in the end the taxpayer ended up out of pocket when the Inverclyde shipyard firm went under in August, 2019 - while the costs of the two ferries at the centre of the debacle continue to escalate.

Ministers approved the £106m public money loan with special provisos for CMAL to protect them which would normally have been expected to pay off the loan over 25 years using revenue it generates from the fees they get from the lease of vessels like ferry operator CalMac's ferry fleet and harbour access charges.

But the £82.5m that had been drawn down from the loan became a taxpayer loss as CMAL says it was "eliminated" after Ferguson Marine went into insolvency in August, 2019.

HeraldScotland:

Mr McConnell, now a Labour life peer has warned that the destruction or removal of official documents was a crime and has said it was “regrettable” that ferry fiasco decisions were not recorded properly.

He said: "I’m sure that when we wrote and then passed the Freedom of Information Act we included clauses to make the destruction or removal of official documents a crime".

He added that he hoped the Auditor General is "asking Police Scotland to investigate".

On social media he was told by one user that in over 40 years in the civil service "weeding and destruction” of paperwork took place all the time.

"Otherwise departments would run out of space. Whilst I understand what this is about, I can’t see how it can be called a crime," the user said.

Mr McConnell responded: "If you were destroying contract decisions and records from within the past decade you were certainly not doing your job properly! If not, don’t try and link this disgrace to routine clear outs."

Audit Scotland has said new parliamentary reviews are required to fully learn the lessons over what went wrong as the Jim McColl-fronted Ferguson Marine went into administration in August, 2019 with the ferries undelivered.

And their representatives have also suggested there should also be a new MSPs probe over the reasons why ministers decided to proceed with awarding the controversial £97m order to Ferguson Marine without mandatory refund guarantees from the shipbuilder.

HeraldScotland:

The two ferries, Glen Sannox and an unnamed vessel known as Hull 802 will be delayed until at least next year – five years later than planned.

The first ship was meant to enter service on the Arran route in the summer of 2018 but is not expected to be ready until next year at the earliest - five years late. Hull 802, destined for an Outer Hebrides route, has gone the same way. The latest estimated cost for both ships is at least £250m off an original fixed contract price of £97m.

Last week SNP finance minister Ivan McKee dismissed claims that there could be a breach of ministerial code of conduct over record keeping failures after Audit Scotland said there was not a proper record over the controversial ferry contract award.

He said that there were already 200 documents in the public domain about the process the Scottish Government went through and that ministers was committed to "open government" and "values and encourages accountability".

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “A thorough search has been conducted and all relevant information that we hold has been shared with Audit Scotland. There is extensive documentation available which records the decision-making process, including mitigations proposed to safeguard public money.

“The Scottish government fully supported Audit Scotland while they conducted their inquiry. We have committed to undertaking a formal review following the completion of the vessels, as recommended by the Audit Scotland report.”