Scotland ferries fiasco: Workers at ailing shipyard Ferguson Marine facing job losses

The yard needs the right ‘mix of skills and capabilities’, says chief executive.

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Jobs are under threat at the ailing Ferguson Marine shipyard as it continues to push to become competitive and finish building two delayed and significantly over-budget ferries, The Scotsman can reveal.

The Scotsman has been told that as many as 100 jobs, potentially among support staff at the yard, are at risk. Unions said they had not been notified of any redundancies.

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However, Ferguson Marine refused to comment on the scale of the job losses, meaning there is significant uncertainty over the number of jobs under threat.

Ferguson Marine shipyard in Port Glasgow, where two ferries are being built for the CalMac fleet.Ferguson Marine shipyard in Port Glasgow, where two ferries are being built for the CalMac fleet.
Ferguson Marine shipyard in Port Glasgow, where two ferries are being built for the CalMac fleet.

The yard has been a lightning rod for political scandal due to its construction of two ferries, the Glen Sannox and hull 802, which are more than five years late and at least three times over their original £97 million budget.

Critics said the possibility of mass redundancies left the SNP Government without a “shred of credibility” when it came to the yard and have demanded a ministerial statement.

The Scottish Government said it was “wholly inappropriate” for them to comment on commercially sensitive matters at the yard.

In May, economy secretary Neil Gray issued an exceptionally rare ministerial direction for an additional £72m to be poured into Ferguson Marine to help fund the completion of the two vessels.

He said this was necessary due to the Government being “committed to supporting the workforce at FMPG [Ferguson Marine (Port Glasgow)] and recognise the importance for jobs, skills and the opportunities for future generations that the yard provides”.

However, it can be revealed the yard is actively considering job losses and overall levels of resource as it pushes to complete the construction of the two ferries and bid for future work.

When asked if there were any ongoing discussions around redundancies at the yard, Ferguson Marine chief executive David Tydeman said consideration was being made around the “right mix of skills”. He said they would consult with unions “at the right time”, adding: “As with any shipyard, the resource required to deliver on contracts fluctuates constantly.

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"We are currently considering a number of strategies to enhance the future commercial prospects of Ferguson Marine and to ensure the shipyard has the right mix of skills and capabilities among the whole workforce.

"At the right time, we will engage and consult with individuals, employee groups, unions, and wider stakeholders on the best way forward.”

It is not clear whether job losses which, if they are around the 100 mark would represent a third of the core workforce, would see the yard downsize through voluntary redundancy among an older workforce or compulsory redundancies.

The yard also recently underwent an extensive productivity assessment, funded by the taxpayer, to outline what is required to ensure the yard is competitive. The details of this work and what is required has never been published, with ministers citing commercial sensitivities.

Ferguson Marine was nationalised in 2019 after it collapsed into administration following years of delays and over-spend on the two ferries.

Ministers have repeatedly defended the decision to save the yard as one that has saved hundreds of jobs.

Prior to this it was owned by pro-independence tycoon, Jim McColl, from 2014. His firm won the contract for the two ferries, securing shipbuilding on the Clyde. But that procurement process has been beset by allegations of fraud, currently being independently investigated by a leading lawyer, Barry Smith.

In a parliamentary debate around the ferries fiasco, Mr Gray said the decision to nationalise “rescued more than 300 jobs”.

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He said: “Our decision to take Ferguson’s into public ownership not only saved the last commercial shipyard on the Clyde from closure, rescued more than 300 jobs and ensured that the two vessels that are vital for our island communities will be delivered, but also preserved businesses in the local community that rely on Ferguson’s for their viability.”

Appearing in front of Holyrood’s public audit committee on Thursday, Mr Gray said he could not rule out more cost increases for the two vessels being built by the yard due to high inflation and “incredibly turbulent economic factors”.

Glen Sannox is due to be delivered by the end of the year and hull 802 is due by the end of 2024.

Graham Simpson, the Scottish Conservative transport spokesperson, said the threat of job losses was a “devastating blow” to the workers at the yard and demanded a ministerial statement on the issue.

He said: “We’ve repeatedly called on SNP ministers to set out a plan for the future of the yard as a viable business, because there is no major work in the pipeline beyond the completion of Glen Sannox and Hull 802. But they have failed to do so – and this is the shattering consequence of that.

“Throughout the SNP’s ferries scandal, ministers’ sole defence has been that they acted to save jobs at the yard, and now even that argument is collapsing.

“The reality is that blameless workers are suffering because of a lack of investment needed to turn the yard into a modern operation that can compete commercially for business. I will be demanding a ministerial statement next week on the latest twist in a never-ending scandal.”

Scottish Labour’s economy spokesperson Daniel Johnson said job losses would be a “disaster” for workers and a “humiliation” for the SNP.

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He said: “The yard’s skilled workforce have gone above and beyond to fix a mess they did not create, and they shouldn’t have to pay the price for the Government’s failure.

“For years the SNP have congratulated themselves for saving the jobs they put at risk by nationalising the yard – they cannot abandon these workers now.

“The Scottish Government’s failure on ferries goes well beyond these two vessels – years of incompetence has left us with no pipeline of work and no real plan for replacing Scotland’s ferries.

“We need a real shipbuilding plan to protect the long-term future for this yard and these important jobs, as well as delivering the ferries our island communities need.”

Willie Rennie, the Scottish Liberal Democrat economy spokesperson, said: “The SNP repeatedly used the workers at the yard as a defence against any criticism of their shambolic handling of the construction of ferries. Now, it seems the workers could be casualties too. Any remaining SNP shred of credibility left will be sinking to the bottom of the Clyde if jobs are lost.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson refused to comment.

They said: “It would be wholly inappropriate to comment on any commercially sensitive matters at Ferguson Marine which would include staffing.

“We continue to engage with the shipyard regularly on a number of matters.”

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