Ferries Scotland: Kate Forbes warned of 'urgent' need for new ferry deal for troubled Ferguson Marine shipyard

Kate Forbes said government wants to see “sustainable” future for Ferguson Marine

The Scottish Government has been urged to kickstart a “pipeline of work” to ensure the future of a state-owned shipyard, amid warnings the business is facing closure due to a lack of orders.

Deputy First Minister Kate Forbes attended a summit on Thursday regarding plans for the troubled Ferguson Marine facility, where she was told by union representatives that a contract to build seven small CalMac ferries was “crucial” to the Inverclyde yard’s viability.

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Ms Forbes said such contributions would be at the “forefront” of her mind as the Government considers proposals for the yard’s medium and long-term future, and stressed that ministers shared a common goal with unions, the yard, its workers and all stakeholders in seeking a “sustainable” new chapter for the Port Glasgow business.

After the two hour-long talks, Gary Cook, GMB Scotland’s senior organiser in engineering and manufacturing, cautioned that any delay in a small ferries contract would put the skills and expertise at the yard at risk.

“The need for a pipeline of work to support this yard could not be clearer or more urgent,” he said. “The small ferries contract must be the start of that pipeline and is exactly the kind of work this yard successfully completed for many years. These contracts would become a springboard back to profitability and help the workforce repay taxpayers for the faith and investment already placed in the yard.”

The yard has endured a torrid time building two late and over-budget new ferries for CalMac. The Glen Sannox and the Glen Rosa vessels are now about six years’ late and will cost around three times the original £97 million price tag.

Stephen McCabe, the leader of Inverclyde Council, said it was a mistake for Fergusons to take on such a project, given the ferries were “far too big” and “far too complicated in design”. He has backed the calls for the yard to “move on”, with the prospect of the small ferries deal viewed as integral. He said without more work coming in, the yard, which dates back to 1903, could have to cut its workforce or may be “facing closure within a reasonably short period of time”.

There are fears for the future of Ferguson Marine unless new orders can be secured. Picture: John DevlinThere are fears for the future of Ferguson Marine unless new orders can be secured. Picture: John Devlin
There are fears for the future of Ferguson Marine unless new orders can be secured. Picture: John Devlin

A direct award of public contracts is possible only in strictly limited circumstances under public procurement rules. Ministers are considering future vessel contracts from public agencies, including the Small Vessels replacement programme.

In a statement issued after the summit, Ms Forbes said: “The Scottish Government shares a common goal with GMB Scotland, the yard, the workers and all stakeholders who met today – to seek a sustainable future for Ferguson Marine, which works for employees, the taxpayer and Scotland’s economy. I have heard many ideas and been impressed by the energy and commitment of everyone involved.”

Scottish Conservative shadow transport minister Graham Simpson said Ms Forbes needed to decide whether the small ferries work was awarded to the yard, and whether she was prepared to invest in the firm to make it commercially competitive.

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“These decisions should have been taken already, but instead the SNP Government has focused on delivering a ferry which is late and over budget,” he added. “Everybody has been let down by SNP incompetence.”



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