Wellbeing economy secretary Neil Gray insisted that there is no "blank cheque" over the ferry fiasco - despite sanctioning a further £72m spend this year.

And the minister indicated that they would have carried on regardless over nationalising Ferguson Marine - even if they had known about the extent of the escalating costs of the two ferries at the centre of a costs crisis.

Mr Gray has insisted that the Scottish Government had not written a "blank cheque" despite agreeing to plough a further £72m to the nationalised shipyard firm dealing with the long-delayed vessels in this financial year.

He spoke out as ministers were accused of presiding over an “outrageous mismanagement of public funds” after pressing ahead with a second ferry at the Ferguson shipyard, despite learning it would be cheaper to scrap the vessel and tender for a new one.

Mr Gray confirmed on Tuesday that the government will proceed with the long-delayed and over-budget Hull 802, even though the project failed its value for money test.

That came after eight months of 'due diligence' over the extra funding requested by Ferguson Marine for this financial year.

READ MORE: ScotGov grants £60m+ extra spend on fiasco ferries despite value fail

Mr Gray issued a rarely-used ministerial direction to overrule the value for money financial test saying completing the vessel at the nationalised yard was the fastest way of delivering more ferry capacity.

In March it was confirmed that due to "persistent design gaps and build errors" the first of the two Ferguson Marine vessels, Glen Sannox is scheduled for autumn 2023 rather than the end of May 2023 with a "contract backstop" of no later than the end of December 2023.

The Herald:

Hull 802 is now not expected online till the autumn of 2024 having already been delayed to the end of March 2024. The contract backstop was stated as being at the end of December 2024.

They were originally due to set sail in the first half of 2018 with one initially to serve Arran and the other to serve the Skye triangle routes to North Uist and Harris, but they are well over five years late. It is suggested the costs of delivery may have quadrupled compared to the original £97m.

The two ferries for CalMac were ordered in 2015 when Ferguson Marine was owned by Jim McColl, a then pro-independence businessman who rescued the Inverclyde yard from administration a year earlier.

When the build ran into trouble, the shipyard firm fell into administration and was nationalised with Mr McColl and the government-owned ferry owning and procurement agency CMAL blame each other for the fiasco.

The Herald: First Minister Nicola Sturgeon with Jim McColl at a launch ceremony for the liquefied natural gas passenger ferry MV Glen Sannox, the UK's first LNG ferry, at Ferguson Marine Engineering in Port Glasgow. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday

Mr Gray when it was suggested that they would not have taken Ferguson's into public ownership had ministers known how far the costs would escalate, he said: I'm not sure of that. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, obviously. And we would have hoped that things would have gone better, obviously. We've said that all along and we make no bones about it. We've apologised to our island communities who deserve these vessels as quickly as possible."

He added: "Obviously, we took Ferguson's into public ownership for a reason that was because Ferguson's otherwise would have ceased to exist and so would the commercial shipbuilding tradition on the Clyde. We would have lost the jobs and we would have lost that skill set."

Asked by the BBC if the provision of continual funding for the vessels was a blank cheque, he said: No, it's absolutely not a blank cheque. I made it explicit to the chief executive that we must ensure that we protect the costs as far as we possibly can, although we have to accept as well that there are economic situations including spiraling inflation that are having an impact at the moment. But I want to ensure that we can protect as far as possible, the budget that has been set."

The minister said that non-delivery of the ferries at nationalised Ferguson's would put the very future of the yard and the jobs it supports "in jeopardy".

He said procuring a new vessel to replace Hull 802 would mean it would not be delivered till May, 2027 at the earliest and said that the value for money case for the second delayed vessel Glen Sannox had been met.

Ministers sanctioned a cash injection of £61.1m in the last financial year alone as Ferguson Marine tries to deliver two long-delayed ferries. The budget for Ferguson Marine was just £35.9m meaning there is an overspend of £25.2m.

In 2021/22 ministers approved £115.1m in spending on Ferguson Marine - more than twice the planned budget.

Calls were made for an independent public inquiry into the ferry fiasco as it emerged that nearly half a billion pounds has been ploughed into the shipyard firm.

Analysis of the money trail based on the Scottish Government's own accounting and audits revealed that the cost to the taxpayer of supporting Ferguson Marine both before and after it forced its nationalisation has soared to more than £450m.

The long delays in the delivery of Glen Sannox and Hull 802 and a perceived lack of investment have had a major impact on the resilience of the ageing CalMac fleet, which has been hit by frequent breakdowns and soaring maintenance costs.