Exclusive:Sacked Ferguson Marine chief David Tydeman: I failed to convince board that certainty over ferries impossible

Ousted boss of Scottish Government-owned shipyard speaks publicly for first time since shock departure

The sacked chief executive of shipbuilder Ferguson Marine has told Scotland on Sunday that he still doesn’t understand why he was fired out of the blue.

Speaking publicly for the first time since his surprise dismissal in March while two hugely-delayed ferries for CalMac remain unfinished, David Tydeman said: “I have done what I was asked to do and am proud of what has been achieved in the last two years.

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“Glen Sannox has proved herself through sea trials and Glen Rosa successfully launched last month”

Mr Tydeman said he had solved the significant problems caused by the botched early construction of the ferries under previous managements, recruited potential successors such as new chief operating officer Paul Blake and devised a plan for the future of the Scottish Government-owned yard.

The ferries, which will be CalMac’s second largest, are running up to seven years late and will cost around four times their original £97 million budget, with their novel dual fuel propulsion system [diesel and liquefied natural gas (LNG)] causing additional headaches.

Mr Tydeman said the decision to terminate his contract “seems strange”. He said: “It was out of the blue, because I had been discussing succession planning and my plans for retirement in 2025.

“I believe I have delivered the three things I was asked to do - solve the engineering, get some senior people in place [as successors] and put a plan on the table [for the yard’s future]”.

But Mr Tydeman said the Port Glasgow yard’s board under chair Andrew Miller had demanded certainty when that was impossible. He said: “Of course, everyone wanted predictable, capped budgets and predictable timelines.

“However, I tried to convince the board that capital manufacturing projects such as shipbuilding are very different to service operations like Prestwick Airport [which Andrew Miller previously chaired] and that there will always be some variables right up to the end.

“In evidence to a Scottish Parliament committee last October, I said I had at last reached a point of confidence in the work scope and hence had confidence in the financial out-turn.

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“The letter by John Petticrew [Mr Tydeman’s interim successor] to the committee in April has confirmed the numbers.”

Industry sources have described Mr Tydeman as an “easy scapegoat” and it is thought that he was fired for failing to provide “unrealistic” guarantees about the final cost and completion dates of the ferries.

One source said: “The request for certainty shows the lack of understanding of this business.”

Mr Tydeman, who joined the yard in February 2022, said it had taken until last autumn to establish the full extent of the remedial work required on Glen Sannox after “years of wrong decisions” earlier in its construction.

He said: “It took me 18 months to get on top of that and I couldn’t give the board certainty - nobody would. One reason you can’t nail down both the cost and timing is that when you get to the end of a complex job, an example being the LNG systems, you can’t throw bodies into a small space.

“You can’t put 100 people into it and do it tomorrow if the space will only take ten. You’ve got a narrowing list of things to do that have become quite specialised.”

Glen Sannox should have been finished in 2018 but is not now due to be completed until July and won’t be in service on the main Arran route - CalMac’s busiest - until at least October. Glen Rosa is due to be finished in September next year - seven years late.

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The extra work required included changing 60 per cent of the engine room pipes. Mr Tydeman said: “One of the rules of shipbuilding is you put your big pipes in first and the small ones in around them - it’s logical.

“A lot of the changes in Glen Sannox over the last couple of years were because many of the small pipes were put in first and had to be taken out as we tried to put the bigger ones in.”

To help secure the yard’s future, Mr Tydeman called for ministers to be “brave enough” to award it a contract for up to ten smaller CalMac ferries, similar to those it successfully built before Glen Sannox and Glen Rosa.

But he said that would still mean a leaner business. He said: “The yard needs investment and has to restructure to get to the right size to survive.

“The problem is if they can’t do a direct award and they put it out to competitive tender, Ferguson Marine is likely to be more expensive than European competitors.”

Kevin Hobbs, chief executive of Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited, which ordered Glen Sannox and Glen Rosa for the Scottish Government, said: “David Tydeman was an honest guy who just said it as it was. Whether or not it was palatable - that didn’t really worry him.

“There was a lot of talk that the ships couldn’t be further delayed, but they will be finished when they’re finished.

“Within a month of David going, Mr Petticrew effectively said what he was going to say [Glen Sannox would be delayed a further two months to July], so it does seem slightly odd to me, to say the least, that he was shown the door.”

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A spokesperson for Ferguson Marine said: “The former chief executive’s contract was terminated in March due to performance reasons.

“Our focus is the future, completing Glen Sannox and Glen Rosa as quickly as possible, and securing the long-term commercial viability of Ferguson Marine.”

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