With a long history of producing steel jackets for the North Sea oil industry, BiFab had hoped to benefit from the construction of new offshore wind farms in the Firth of Forth, turning around a period of financial instability which has seen an injection of more than £40 million in public funds.
As we now know, in September BiFab lost out on a major contract to contribute to the construction of the Neart Na Gaoithe (NnG) wind farm after Scottish ministers withdrew their offer of a £30 million guarantee. It is hard to see what future the company now has, when it has not been able to compete for this lucrative work, and with few similar opportunities on the near horizon.
Facing political criticism from all sides, the SNP Economy Secretary Fiona Hyslop sought to deflect the blame, claiming that EU state-aid rules have made the offer of a guarantee impossible, and complaining of a lack of support from BiFab’s Canadian parent company, JVDriver.
Unsurprisingly, she also sought to pass the blame on to the UK government for its “contracts for difference” subsidy scheme for offshore wind which does not attach any conditions requiring the work to be carried out within the UK.
Last week, BiFab hit back at the Scottish government for their claims about JVDriver, stating that they were “perplexed and disappointed” at the SNP’s stance. Far from JVDriver standing in the way, BiFab stated, they repeatedly offered to transfer their shares in the Scottish company to the Scottish government at no cost. This offer was not taken up and is still open. Accordingly, the statements of SNP ministers about BiFab have been, in their words, “inaccurate or untruthful”.
If this were not damaging enough, the trade unions GMB and Unite joined together to issue a damning statement against the SNP government, demanding that the legal advice underpinning the decision to walk away from BiFab be published, and slamming the government’s announcement last week as “an act of bad faith [which] made a mockery of the so-called fair work agenda”.
Whilst it is indeed the UK government which grants contracts for difference, on a bidding system, the planning consent for offshore wind projects is in the gift of Scottish ministers, on advice from Marine Scotland. It was therefore entirely under the control of SNP ministers at the time that consent was issued to insert conditions requiring a local employment and training strategy. This was not taken up at the time, and it seems a shameless piece of deflection by the SNP now to try and absolve themselves of all responsibility for the matter, and pass the blame onto others.
We were all promised a bright future in terms of manufacturing and engineering jobs from renewable energy in Scotland. At the first hurdle, we have been badly let down.
A company like BiFab deserves better than it has had so far from the SNP government, and they have it within their hands to take action now to provide much-needed employment in Fife and on Lewis. Simply deflecting the blame onto others is not a tactic they can get away with on this occasion.