Nicola Sturgeon has come under fire over £87,000 paid in bonuses to managers at a shipyard despite a lack of certainty about when two over-budget and late ferries will be delivered.
Earlier this week, the auditor general released a scathing report which revealed that six managers at the Ferguson Marine yard in Port Glasgow had been awarded bonuses for the year 2021-22 without Scottish government approval.
Speaking at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, Douglas Ross asked: “Why are fat cat bosses getting a single penny before a ferry has been finished?”
The Scottish Conservatives leader also called for the money to be returned to the taxpayer, stating: “We think [the bonuses] are downright scandalous, it’s indefensible, it’s a bonus for failure.”
‘We accept that criticism’
Ms Sturgeon said she welcomed the Audit Scotland report and said the Scottish government accepted the criticism.
She said: “We accept that criticism and can assure parliament that new arrangements have been put in place, indeed at the deputy first minister’s [John Swinney’s] request to ensure that that doesn’t arise in the future.”
The Inverclyde yard was nationalized in 2019 when problems with the Glen Sannox and as-yet-unnamed hull 802 were discovered.
The ferries are already five years late and estimated costs have ballooned from an initial budget of £97m to £293m.
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According to Stephen Boyle’s report, the payments were approved by the remuneration committee at the yard and based on a paper from former turnaround director Tim Hair.
Mr Hair recommended a 7.5% bonus for the directors, which he later said in a letter “was payable as a result of the structural completion of the hull on vessel 801 [Glen Sannox]”.
The auditor general’s report added: “There was a lack of transparency and good governance around the assessment and approval of these payments. FMPG was unable to evidence the evaluation over the discretionary element of this payment.”
Mr Hair, the report found, was also paid a total of £1.8m during his time at the yard between August 2019 and February 2022.
‘I deeply regret these failures’
Following further questioning from Mr Ross, Ms Sturgeon said: “I am of the view that the failures here are unacceptable.
“I deeply regret these failures, but that is why it is important that we continue to focus on delivering these ferries and also securing a long-term future for the shipyard.”
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Following the exchange, Mr Ross stated: “The SNP ferry scandal has damaged our nation’s reputation for shipbuilding excellence, and left islanders without vital transport links they rely on.
“This is a bonus for failure – and this failure is all on the SNP government. Ferguson Marine is owned by ministers, they’re ultimately in charge of it.
“As Nicola Sturgeon prepares to sail off into retirement, she needs to tell the public when these ferries will finally be ready – and what the final price for them will be.
“She singularly failed to do so, and instead passed the buck to John Swinney. That’s simply unacceptable – the first minister can’t wash her hands of one of the worst scandals of her time in office.”