THE SNP's deputy leader has come under fire by a Holyrood committee for ducking questions about issues over the ferry fiasco contract given to tycoon Jim McColl's Ferguson Marine.

Richard Leonard, convener of the Public Audit Committee, which launched an inquiry into the events surrounding the award of the contract for two lifeline ferries in October, 2015 said there was "concern" over Keith Brown's responses over the scandal.

Then First Minister, Alex Salmond, personally intervened to save the yard in 2014 and persuaded Mr McColl, a member of his council of economic advisers, to take it over just a week before the Scottish independence referendum.

The committee is examining public spending watchdog Audit Scotland's findings that included that the £97m order was given to Ferguson Marine without the normal builder's refund guarantees, which would protect the vessel procurers, Scottish Government-controlled Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL), if anything should go wrong.

The ships, still being built at the Port Glasgow yard, will be over five years late and could cost £340m.

Now Mr Brown, the justice secretary who served as infrastructure secretary with responsibility for ferry services while the contract was awarded to Ferguson Marine, has come under fire from the committee convener for the level of answers he has given about his knowledge surrounding the botched contract.

Mr Leonard told Mr Brown: "In more general terms, we wish to express our disappointment that the content of your letter does not provide the level of detail we would have expected, to assist our scrutiny of the Auditor General’s report. We would therefore encourage you to also revisit your response... and if further detail can be provided, the committee would welcome this information. "

When Mr Leonard, asked him clarify his involvement and knowledge of the ferries contract he confirmed he received a written submission from officials recommending the award of the contract, but failed to answer over whether the then-transport minister Derek Mackay had raised any concerns about the procurement with him.

HeraldScotland: Scottish Labour party leader Richard Leonard during First Minister's Questions at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday February 22, 2018. See PA story SCOTLAND Questions. Photo credit should read: Jane Barl

Now Mr Leonard has written to Mr Brown saying the committee expressed "concern" that he had failed to answer a question asking what information Mr Mackay shared with him about the status of the procurement of the ferry vessels, and specifically whether he raised any concerns before going on annual leave during the summer of 2015, before the contract was finally awarded.

"Your response confirms that you were contacted by Transport Scotland officials on 20 August 2015, while Mr Mackay was on leave. However, the response provides no detail about what information, if any, he shared with you before this date," Mr Leonard said.

"For the avoidance of doubt, the committee is keen to establish all instances before 20 August 2015 when the former Minister for Transport and Islands provided an update to you on the procurement of the vessels, including any occasion(s) where he raised particular concerns with you. The committee asks that detailed information is provided in your response to this question, to understand what was discussed when you met with the former Minister, or drawn to your attention by him in written correspondence.

"The committee asks you to revisit the first question in our original correspondence to you and provide a response to the specific question that was asked."

Mr Brown has again been asked about what direct action he took on reading the detail of CMAL's concerns over the potential awarding of the contract to Ferguson Marine. CMAL raised concerns that a full builder’s guarantee was not part of the agreement, but the decision was taken to award the deal to Ferguson regardless.

An Audit Scotland report found there was insufficient “documentary evidence” to show why the decision was taken forward without the guarantee, something described as a source of “frustration” for the body.

Mr Brown has also again been asked if he would confirm whether Mr Mackay highlighted any concerns about the ability of shipyards tendering for the contract, to provide a full builders refund guarantee, between February and August 2015, either orally or in writing.

HeraldScotland: Stuart McMillan, MSP for Greenock and Inverclyde

And he has been asked again if he was aware of correspondence received from Stuart McMillan MSP regarding the procurement process for ferry contracts and his subsequent response. The Herald revealed that Mr McColl's Ferguson Marine received written guidance from Mr Mackay that refund guarantees were not mandatory to win building work.

Mr Mackay told a Mr McMillan in a letter six months before Mr McColl’s Ferguson Marine yard became preferred bidder that transport bosses saw refund guarantees as only “a preference”.

He added that state-owned ferry owner and procurement firm Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL) had “on occasion taken alternative approaches” to the bonds while explaining how a “different approach" may be required for shipbuilding contracts”.

Mr Mackay, now an ex-minister who resigned in a sleaze scandal involving a teenager in 2020 has been blamed for signing off the contract to build the new vessels despite a number of red flags over the finances.

It is not the first time Mr Brown has come under fire for dodging questions about the ferry fiasco.

In April, Mr Brown dodged inquiries from reporters on the matter by swiftly entering the parliament canteen.

The Herald asked for a response to this from Mr Brown.   He didn't respond.

Instead, a Scottish Government spokesman  said: "Ministers remain committed to transparency. The Scottish Government has proactively published over 200 documents of information on our website and evidence was provided to the inquiry as and when requested.

“Ministers will reply to the Public Audit Committee in due course.”