Clyde shipyard could be nationalised amid row over ferries

Ministers are considering taking over a Clyde shipyard to ensure the completion of two desperately-needed CalMac ferries which have hit problems.
The Ferguson yard. Picture: John DevlinThe Ferguson yard. Picture: John Devlin
The Ferguson yard. Picture: John Devlin

Construction of the vessels for the Arran and Skye/Harris/North Uist routes at Ferguson Marine in Port Glasgow is running two years late and the first is not now due in service until at least next summer.

The cost of the work is now reported to have doubled from the £97 million contract price for the Glen Sannox and its as-yet unnamed sister ship.

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A dispute between the yard and Scottish Government-owned Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (Cmal) over claimed “significant design changes” to the vessels, which will be able to run on both liquid natural gas or diesel threatens to end in court.

An industry source said the takeover option may be because ministers could not provide Ferguson with any more state aid, which has included £45m of loans.

The ferries are needed to bolster the ageing CalMac fleet after ferry breakdowns caused major disruption across its west coast network.

Opposition parties raised concerns about ministers rescuing Ferguson from closure five years ago and the ferry contract being subsequently awarded to the yard.

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant said: “The first priority is protecting jobs at Fergusons, and Scottish Labour will support all efforts to ensure the future of the shipyard is protected.

“But serious questions must now be asked over the SNP’s role in awarding these ferry contracts in the first instance.

“Any deal reached must ensure speedy completion of the ferries, which are already late. “Meanwhile the existing fleet is breaking down and replacements are desperately required. This dispute is only delaying them further.”

Scottish Conservative finance spokesman Murdo Fraser said: “Responsibility for this mess begins and ends with the SNP government.

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“It was Alex Salmond and his ministers who sought political gain when they brokered the deal to save Ferguson before the independence referendum in 2014. Now Scottish taxpayers are facing the consequences of that action.

“Nationalising the yard isn’t the answer and it won’t help Ferguson as it seeks to bid for new contracts.”

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said: “We are focused on supporting the yard, completing the vessels and ensuring the future of shipbuilding at the site.

“We are working with partners to deliver that outcome.”

The spokesman declined to confirm the takeover plans but did not challenge reports that said it was being considered.

A Ferguson Marine spokesman said: “We continue to engage with both the Scottish Government and Cmal, and remain fully committed to securing the long-term future of the yard.”

A Cmal spokeswoman said:

“Our main priority is the delivery of the two dual-fuel vessels.

“We are acutely aware of the need to boost the resilience of the fleet to ease pressure on the operator, CalMac, and to serve island communities.

“We are keen that the longer-term future of the shipyard and its workforce is secure.”

Greenock and Inverclyde SNP MSP Stuart McMillan said: “I am reassured that the government is preparing for all eventualities.”