THE former owner of beleaguered Port Glasgow shipyard firm Ferguson Marine has described Scotland's ferries fiasco as 'possibly the biggest waste of public funds since the Scottish Government was formed' - as new fears over the completion dates have been raised.

Tycoon Jim McColl said the public spending auditor must be sanctioned to carry out a deeper investigation which should include the reasons for the soaring costs of the delivery of two lifeline ferries that remain incomplete at the Inverclyde yard.

He says a ministerial order should be given that he believes should kickstart a full forensic probe into what happened while he was in control of Ferguson's - believing that the depth of the 'scandal has not been properly exposed'.

He said: "This is probably the biggest waste, misuse of public funds since the Scottish Government was formed. The cost is way higher than what gets quoted. It is probably around £450m and could go to £500m. And that is a scandal.

"If this happened in the private sector the [people responsible] would be slaughtered. It is a scandal that this has not been properly exposed."

Audit Scotland has confirmed it has been hampered in its attempts to establish where pre-nationalisation Ferguson Marine Engineering Limited (FMEL) spent over £128.25m in public money in relation to the building of two long-delayed lifeline ferries before it was nationalised.

Greenock Telegraph: Nicola Sturgeon and Jim McColl

It is believed that a special order will allow that to happen.

Mr McColl said: "If they get the powers, they will be able to get into it deeper. And maybe look more into the reasons why the costs went up.

"It will certainly allow them, if they do their job properly and audit, to look at where the money went.

"It will show that all the money went into the ferries. The spending was tightly controlled by [professional services consultants] PwC.

"There was no leeway for us to do anything other than to use it for the ferries."

The Glen Sannox and Glen Rosa vessels for Scottish Government-owned CalMac were ordered in 2015 when Ferguson Marine was owned by Mr McColl, a then pro-independence businessman who rescued the shipyard firm from administration a year earlier.

Greenock Telegraph:

After Mr McColl's FMEL entered administration in August 2019 amidst delivery delays and escalating costs, the tycoon blamed delays and cost overruns of then an estimated £60m on late design changes. The government-owned ferry owning and procurement agency Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) blamed the yard for the issues.

By then Ferguson Marine had received £83.25m in milestone payments from CMAL and £45 million in loan payments from the Scottish Government - yet the vessels were largely incomplete.

Delivery under the nationalised and renamed Ferguson Marine (Port Glasgow) is now over six years late with costs expected to quadruple compared to the original £97m contract costs.

But Audit Scotland said there are legal issues getting in the way of their attempts to properly scrutinise where the money went at FMEL.

Greenock Telegraph: The Glen Sannox

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "The Scottish Government remains committed to being as open and transparent as possible in relation to decisions around Ferguson Marine (FMPG) and vessels 801 and 802, and has proactively published more than 200 documents on its website.

"We have co-operated at every stage of the recent public audit Committee inquiry, as well as those previously undertaken by the rural economy and connectivity committee and Audit Scotland.

“We have received a letter from the public audit committee and will respond in due course.”

A spokesman for CMAL said that it was 'firmly focussed on the delivery of six new major vessels by the end of 2025 for the Clyde & Hebrides Ferry Service'.

An Audit Scotland spokesman said: "We are content with the accuracy of our report. This has also been explored by the Scottish Parliament."

Meanwhile, wellbeing economy secretary Neil Gray has said he is unable to explain the depths of delays expected in the completion the two ferries after safety regulators demanded new design changes before any approvals are given.

Among the issues to be resolved is the installation of additional staircases on Glen Sannox and Glen Rosa in order to satisfy the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA).