The embattled Ferguson Marine shipyard is facing more uncertainty after the Scottish Government failed last night to say whether it would step in to nationalise the firm which is facing administration.
Despite Finance Secretary Derek Mackay’s confirmation that taking the yard into public ownership was an option, no decision has been made on the future of the Port Glasgow site and the Government said it was “still open to considering viable alternative options”.
The Clyde shipyard employs 350 staff and has been in a long dispute with the Government over a £97 million contract to build two ferries for Caledonian Macbrayne on behalf of government agency Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL). However, the job is behind schedule and over budget after the cost of the complicated eco-friendly design of the hybrid vessels went up and CMAL refused to cover the rise.
Ferguson Marine has blamed the hold-ups on “interference and disruption” by CMAL, which buys and leases CalMac vessels. As a result, Ferguson’s owner, Jim McColl, has said the firm – which has received £45m in public loans – expects to lose £40m on the deal.
Yesterday Mr McColl, the billionaire businessman who saved the yard from closure five years ago and who is an economic adviser to Nicola Sturgeon, accused the Government of incompetence and an abuse of power. He said: “The way they are acting right now is economically damaging for the local area and for Scotland. Anyone with a Standard Grade in economics would be able to work this out, it’s not rocket science.”
However, last night a Scottish Government spokesperson said that, while they were “keen to reach a conclusion on the matter”, and were “actively considering other options, including public ownership” they remained “open to considering viable alternative options.”
The spokesperson added: “We have always been clear that our priority is to ensure the completion of the vessels under construction, secure jobs for the workforce and protect the future of shipbuilding at the site. We will continue to work with all partners to reach a constructive solution that can deliver both the vessels and safeguard jobs for those who work in the yard.”
Trade union GMB Scotland, which represents staff at the yard, said it remained confident it will be nationalised this week.
Gary Smith, the union’s chief, said: “The Scottish Government has given us assurances over a period of weeks and months that they will not let the company fail because the workforce is important, continuity is important and suppliers would be left high and dry.
“We have every confidence that they will do the right thing and we look forward to working with them as the new owners of Ferguson Marine. This is a national asset and we believe public ownership is the right way to go.”
Ferguson Marine’s chief executive, Gerry Marshall, said the directors hoped for a positive outcome this week, but had served notice to appoint an administrator to the company as they “do not consider there to be any other options”.