Hundreds of employees of the engineering firm BiFab, under threat of redundancy for months, will have breathed a sigh of relief yesterday with news that Canadian company JV Driver has completed a takeover.
We are in early days and full details of the new owners’ plans for yards in Fife and Lewis are yet to be unveiled but what is certain is that the very worst outcome has been avoided.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon yesterday said the Scottish Government was delivering on a commitment she made last year to stand by BiFab and secure a long-term future of the company. Ms Sturgeon certainly deserves some credit for the work she and colleagues have done in brokering the deal which might yet restore the company’s place at the heart of Scotland’s marine energy industry but there is much yet to be done before this particular ship is safely set on a prosperous course.
Under the terms of the takeover deal, the Scottish Government - which saved BiFab from administration with a £15million loan last year - will become a minority shareholder in the company. This may raise eyebrows among sceptics who wonder whether the Scottish Government is investing because it believes in the future of BiFab or because it doesn’t wish the misery of more redundancies in an industry under severe pressure.
Bluntly, the political motives for this deal no longer matter. What is important now is that every possible effort is made to help the yards thrive.
Economy Secretary Keith Brown was quite clear that the takeover deal was not, in itself, the solution to the company’s woes. There would continue, he said, to be difficult times and there was no guarantee contracts would be won but he was confident BiFab had a future. Given the historic achievements of Scots in engineering, it may seem right that the latest innovations are developed here but sentimental pride in past achievements mean nothing in this especially competitive industry.
Bifab staff, the new owners, and politicians are committed to making the company work and now have the benefit of some breathing space, but it will soon have to begin repaying the investment of its new owners, which include Scottish taxpayers. We sincerely hope BiFab can once again become again a serious player in its field. Yesterday’s announcement was a crucial first step on the long road to that destination.