A MISCONDUCT in public office allegation sparked by a contentious ferries report is now set to be lodged with the Chief Constable of Police Scotland.

Campaigners fighting to rid the Gourock-Dunoon route of passenger-only boats say they want a government department investigated in the wake of an Audit Scotland probe.

The public spending watchdog recently rejected the group's complaint, but activists now intend to refer a wrangle over disputed financial projections to the country's top police officer, Iain Livingston, after a plan to reintroduce car ferries was scrapped.

The move by the Dunoon-Gourock Ferry Action Group comes after an official report contained alleged inaccurate figures of up to £60m for two new vehicle-carrying ships.

Scottish Government minister Paul Wheelhouse decided to keep a pair of cancellation-plagued boats in service on 'value for money' grounds following the report's publication.

Transport Scotland bosses say they 'shared concerns' about the car ferries £60m price tag, however, Audit Scotland — who compiled the report — insist government officials were 'content' with it.

Now Transport Scotland says the decision to retain the ferries — which have racked up thousands of cancelled sailings — was based on its own figures, and not those in the audit report.

But the government body refused to state what its cost estimates are, or on what they are based.

Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd — in charge of Scotland's ferry fleet — says the current 'ballpark' figure for new car ferries is £10m each, and a government-commissioned study six years ago put the price at £6m.

The ferry action group says it disputes Transport Scotland's claim regarding the decision to abandon a declared government 'wish' to bring back car ferries.

Convenor Susanna Rice said: "When our delegation met the minister [Paul Wheelhouse] on January 17 we were given a copy of the section of the Audit Scotland report that referred to Gourock-Dunoon.

"This was cited as justification for abandoning the tender [for car ferries]."

An Audit Scotland spokeswoman said: "The [report] numbers in question came from evidence given in public at a Scottish Parliament hearing and were the only publicly available estimate at the time of writing our report.

"During meetings around the audit, Transport Scotland considered the estimate of £25-30m [for each ferry] could be high.

"Transport Scotland was, however, content for this figure to appear in the report because it was already in the public domain and no other up-to-date estimates were available."

The spokeswoman added: "As part of the standard factual accuracy checking process we carry out with all reports, we provided Transport Scotland with our draft report containing these figures.

"In response, the formal clearance letter from Transport Scotland's chief executive [Roy Brannen] did not comment on, or dispute, the figure during this process."

Two senior Transport Scotland officials, Graham Laidlaw and Richard Hadfield, were part of an advisory group whose expertise was sought by Audit Scotland for the report.

A Transport Scotland spokesman said: "The suggestion that we did not query the figure is wrong.

"We engaged on this figure with Audit Scotland at the appropriate time during the process and we are comfortable that our own considerations of this issue were not based on this figure."

In a statement issued previously, Transport Scotland said: "The decision [to reject car ferries] made by the Scottish ministers was based on Transport Scotland's figures for new vessels, not those estimated by David MacBrayne Ltd as referenced in the Audit Scotland report."

The ferry action group's Mrs Rice has asked why no progress has been made on commissioning new vessels.

She added: "Audit Scotland says that there is no evidence of Transport Scotland correcting the figure.

"Transport Scotland says that it told Audit Scotland that the figure was wrong.

"Misconduct in a public office is a criminal offence and is punishable by a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

"We will now refer this matter to Scotland's Chief Constable."