NICOLA Sturgeon should have been aware of the crisis around the building of vessels at the centre of Scotland's ferry fiasco over five years ago, former Ferguson Marine shipyard owner Jim McColl has said.

Mr McColl, one of Scotland’s richest men, who had acquired Ferguson Marine out of insolvency in 2014, is contesting a claim by the First Minister that a crucial meeting that is the centre of a 'missing minutes' row did not highlight any crisis.

Mr McColl is contesting evidence given by the First Minister in an inquiry being carried out by the Scottish Parliament’s Public Audit Committee in which he has accused the government of misleading parliament, the Auditor General and the public over the nature of the contract.

The McColl-led Ferguson Marine Engineering Limited (FMEL) went into administration in August, 2019 following a dispute with Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) - the taxpayer-funded company which buys and leases publicly owned CalMac's ships on behalf of the Scottish government - over the construction of the much-delayed ferries under a £97m contract.

The vessels being built for CalMac, MV Glen Sannox and Hull 802, are still languishing in the now state-owned Ferguson Marine shipyard in Inverclyde, with the costs of their construction soaring from £97 million to nearly £340m and scheduled delivery more than five years late.

Mr McColl, who rescued the yard after a request for intervention by then First Minister Alex Salmond, says the First Minister should have been aware of the crisis at the yard at a meeting in May, 2017.

Ms Sturgeon said that at the meeting there were concerns about "slippage in the contract" and over "what I would describe as the cash flow and financial position of FMEL" but added: "Did I go into that meeting thinking that it was a great crisis meeting? No, nor did I come out of it thinking that. Mr McColl had concerns about cash flow, and he had had concerns about the structure of the milestone payments."

Shortly after the meeting, Mr McColl asked the state-procurement body CMAL for more cash to complete the ferries.

A row consequently blew up at a failure to produce minutes for the key meeting.

The Herald:

The Scottish Conservatives said that the First Minister would be "guilty" of breaking the ministerial code unless her government can produce the minutes.

Scottish Tory MSP Craig Hoy who wrote to the First Minister demanding the minutes saying it was "key to getting to the bottom of the ferries fiasco which has left Scotland’s island communities feeling so betrayed by her government."

He added: “It would be a clear breach of the Ministerial Code for minutes of such an important meeting not to have been recorded, so I can’t imagine those present would have allowed that to happen."

Mr McColl in a response to the First Minister's evidence said: “The First Minister said she did not go into it thinking it was a great crisis meeting nor did she come out of it thinking it was. The fact that I had to appeal to the First Minister directly was an indication that it was a very serious situation. I communicated that clearly to her at the meeting. She could have been in no doubt about the urgency of the situation and that if we did not do something it would become a crisis.

“The minutes of the meeting will reveal the seriousness of the discussion.

"There must also be correspondence - a briefing note to the FM on the purpose of the meeting and to Liz Ditchburn (the then Director-General Economy), briefing her on the situation which will verify the true nature of our discussion."

He also accused CMAL and the Government of providing misleading information that the contract was "fixed price".

The Herald:

The new build BIMCO contract signed by Mr McColl and the government allows for price changes in various circumstances.

Mr McColl told MSPs: “The CMAL board misled the government by repeatedly claiming that the contract was a fixed price contract. A simple review of the contract would have exposed this claim to be false. The Government have misled Parliament, the Auditor General and the public by claiming that the contract was a fixed price contract.”

He believed that a “fear of confronting” CMAL was the main reason why the government failed to stop what he described as a “catastrophic mess”.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "The First Minister stands by the evidence, and the follow-up information requested by the committee will be provided in due course.

"The Scottish Government’s priorities have always been the completion of the two ferries, securing a future for the yard and its workforce, and supporting our island communities that rely on this type of vessel on a daily basis.”