JOHN Swinney yesterday refused to rule out the prospect of a Scottish Government buy-out for the last commercial shipyard on the River Clyde when he told MSPs he had an “open mind on all options” for the ailing business.
The finance secretary set out the option of a government takeover of Ferguson Shipbuilders in Port Glasgow in a statement at Holyrood, after about 70 workers were made redundant last Friday. Mr Swinney told MSPs that there was a “real urgency” to find a new owner.
Following the collapse of Ferguson, the Scottish Government and Inverclyde Council set up a taskforce to look at ways of saving the business.
James and Sandy Easdale, Rangers’ board members and owners of Greenock-based McGill’s Buses, are in talks about a possible rescue package with KPMG, the administrators of the yard, which faced a lack of orders and cash-flow problems.
However, the brothers indicated that they were more likely to help bail out the yard if the Scottish Government was “willing to help” finance any potential rescue package.
Mr Swinney was asked by Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie if the government would buy the shipyard if it was unable to find an alternative purchaser for the site.
Mr Swinney replied: “The government is not prepared to rule anything out. We will do all we can to save the yard.”
Ministers have already intervened to protect jobs at ailing and loss-making businesses, with Prestwick Airport passing into public ownership after being bought by the Scottish Government for £1 last year.
Mr Swinney added that there would be a “concerted and coherent effort” to save the yard as he warned there were “livelihoods at direct stake” with the threat to jobs. The minister insisted the task force would do all it could to “secure a new owner for the yard”.
He went on: “We are determined to see shipbuilding continue on the lower Clyde. And I firmly believe that there is a viable future for shipbuilding on the lower Clyde. There are 70 livelihoods at direct stake. In Port Glasgow we have a highly skilled workforce, it is essential that these skills are put to productive use.”
A spokesman for the Easdales suggested their decision on any rescue package would be based on what additional financial support the government would make available.
He said: “The brothers had a very good meeting with KPMG and spent about ten to 15 minutes walking around the facility. The figures have now gone to experts, who will go over them.”