Scotland business

Ferry firm director in hospitality row steps down

Lorna Spencer
Image caption Lorna Spencer is CMAL's director of harbours

A senior director of a public body at the centre of inappropriate hospitality claims is stepping down.

Lorna Spencer, director of harbours at Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL), which owns much of Scotland's ferry network, is to retire in June.

BBC Scotland revealed Mrs Spencer accepted several offers of hospitality from a firm bidding for lucrative public contracts.

Mrs Spencer denies any wrongdoing and said she decided to retire months ago.

CMAL told BBC Scotland in May there had been no breaches of CMAL's policy.

CMAL is a public corporation which owns much of Scotland's ferry infrastructure on behalf of the Scottish government.

The firm awards major contracts worth tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers' cash to upgrade its ferry fleet and harbours.

CMAL rules state that staff involved in procurement must not accept hospitality from bidding companies.

Image caption George Leslie said it conducted business with integrity

Mrs Spencer is one of eight board members who collectively sign off on the awarding of contracts.

The quango's hospitality register was obtained by BBC Disclosure under Freedom of Information legislation, and revealed multiple instances of Mrs Spencer accepting hospitality from Glasgow firm George Leslie, whilst it was bidding for lucrative contracts.

The hospitality included a day at the Open Golf in 2018 as a guest of George Leslie, even though the company was at that time bidding for five contracts worth more than £20m. The company won four of those, with a fifth still to be decided.

'Duly investigated'

Mrs Spencer also failed to accurately declare the value of the hospitality, citing £100, though CMAL said this was "inadvertent".

CMAL confirmed concerns had been raised internally by the procurement manager about Mrs Spencer's hospitality but said these were "duly investigated" and that no breach of the hospitality policy had been found.

CMAL insisted Mrs Spencer was not part of the procurement assessment team and therefore did not break any rules.

Image caption One of the contracts was for work at Lochaline harbour

Mrs Spencer told the BBC she gave notice to CMAL of her intention to retire on 11 March this year, a week before the BBC submitted its first FOI request to CMAL.

Her lawyer told the BBC: "Her decision to retire predates your investigations (on the basis that your initial FOI request was made on 18 March to CMAL). Her decision to retire has nothing to do with your investigation."

In a second FOI request, it has emerged that Mrs Spencer also declared hospitality titled "rugby and entertainment" of £50 from George Leslie in December 2014, whilst the firm was bidding for the £22m Brodick Pier redevelopment contract, which it won.

Mrs Spencer's lawyer insisted her client had complied with the rules at all times.

George Leslie Ltd previously told the BBC that it "conducts its business in an honourable way with integrity" and that "proportionate hospitality" was "an integral part" of maintaining business relationships.

CMAL declined to comment.

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