CALLS have been made for a judge-led public inquiry over Scotland's ferry fiasco to overcome the 'transparency obstacles' faced by public finance auditors. 

It comes after Auditor General Stephen Boyle raised concerns about 'missing evidence' over why ministers took on the financial risk of the calamitous contract to build the much-delayed two new lifeline ferries which are delayed by over years and with costs spiraling to a quarter of a million pounds. 

Nicola Sturgeon denied there was a Government "cover-up" over missing documents and said that "anybody can go on to the Scottish Government website and see the sheer quantum of paperwork and recording of decisions around this issue.” 

Audit Scotland has previously expressed "frustration" to MSPs over a failure to provide the key information over why ministers decided to proceed with awarding the controversial £97m order to Jim McColl-led Ferguson Marine without mandatory full refund guarantees from the shipbuilder. 

In the years since the contract was awarded, the yard has been saved from administration by the Scottish Government, and the estimated delivery of two vessels has been pushed back by at least five years, along with an increase in costs to at least £250 million. 

Former justice secretary Kenny MacAskill said a public inquiry should be held to flush out the truth of what happened that Audit Scotland could not get their hands on. 

He said: “The failure to deliver the two ferries at Ferguson’s within budget and on time is fast becoming one of the biggest scandals since the current Scottish Parliament came into being in 1999 and arguably the biggest of this SNP Government’s tenure. 

“The cost over-run is £152 million and rising while the questions for the Scottish Government have been stacking up over recent days. They demand not just ‘regret’ from the First Minister but full openness and transparency. 

“Public Inquiries are rightly few in number but there comes a time when they are the only means of establishing the facts and getting to the truth. 

“As with the inquiry into the Scottish Parliament building project a public inquiry can look at the cost over runs and delays in the construction of the two ferries, can ensure full disclosure of documents and demand that witnesses appear before them. 

“Procurement strategy, cost control, contractual and project management arrangements can all be looked at in detail. In addition an inquiry can establish a full account of the key decisions and factors which have determined the cost over runs and time delays." 

In the years since the contract was awarded, the yard has been saved from administration by the Scottish Government, and the estimated delivery of two vessels has been pushed back by at least five years, along with an increase in costs to at least £250 million. 

The Glen Sannox and the as-yet-unnamed Hull 802 are now expected to be completed between March and May 2023 and between October and December 2023 respectively. 

Mr MacAskill, who was justice secretary for seven years from 2007 and is now deputy leader of the Alba Party added: “The public inquiry can build on the Auditor General’s existing findings. However given the clear obstacles which the Auditor General has encountered a public inquiry is now the only way of establishing what went wrong, when and by whom. 

“These are the critical questions which require detailed scrutiny and answers from the Scottish Government. Frankly with the degree of public disquiet and the level of public mistrust the Scottish Government cannot be judge and jury in their own court

“I believe that the openness and transparency that the Scottish public rightly demand can now only be achieved by a full scale judge led public inquiry." 

Mr Boyle said on Thursday they were so far unable to say which minister gave the approval to award the contract to the Jim McColl-led Ferguson Marine without mandatory safeguards and continued to insist there was insufficient documentary evidence over the decision making. 

Papers show that justice secretary Keith Brown - who was infrastructure secretary in 2015 - was asked to sign off Ferguson Marine's status as preferred bidder. 

But that was before concerns were raised by the government’s ferry procurement body, Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL) over the lack of financial guarantees that placed them at risk and before the contracts were finally signed. 

Mr Boyle told the Scottish Parliament's public account committee that he was unaware of any direction given to improve the quality of its record keeping on major decisions and said MSPs may which to pursue that with the government. 

He also said that they may need to make a new inquiry over the 'missing' documents. 

Mr Boyle said it was part of their forward thinking to carry out a "fuller and next stage review" over what has been delivered in terms of public spending of the vessels and a "need for an understanding" over what has been produced from the "vast sums of public money" pumped into the ferries project. 

It has been suggested that the transparency failure was a breach of the Public Finance and Accountability Act. 

The Herald on Sunday revealed 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 from the shipbuilder.