Ferguson shipyard could be nationalised amid ferry row

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That option is the increasingly likely outcome of a dispute over the building of two west coast ferries for CalMac.

The BBC has learned of “fraught” negotiations over a bill that is now understood to be nearly double the original £97 million contract price.

Tycoon Jim McColl, who formerly owned Ideal Kitchens on the Broadmeadow Industrial Estate in Dumbarton and sold it on his way to becoming one of Scotland’s richest men, rescued the yard from collapse five years ago.

McColl, whose name was also formerly linked with a takeover bid for Rangers FC, stands to lose tens of millions of pounds.

  • Ferguson Marine could lose £40 million on ferries
  • Frustration of Ferguson owner McColl
  • Ferguson shipyard loaned £30 million to diversify

He was given heroic status by SNP ministers when he stepped in to save the totemic shipyard in Port Glasgow – the only commercial yard left on the lower Clyde.

That was only days before the referendum on Scottish independence, and was partly brokered by Alex Salmond as first minister.

Derek Mackay, the finance and economy secretary, is now handling the talks with Clyde Blowers, Mr McColl’s holding company.

That takes the dispute out the hands of Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) – the government-owned firm that placed the orders and owns CalMac’s fleet.

The official comment from the Scottish government was: “The Scottish government, Ferguson’s and CMAL are focussed on the completion of the current ferry contracts and securing a vibrant future for the yard. We continue to work together to achieve that.”

Privately, the government is determined to ensure the yard remains open. Its current workforce is about 350.

But ministers are not giving ground on the fixed price contract agreed between Ferguson Marine and CMAL.

It is claimed that doing so would bring legal action by other bidders that failed to win the contract.

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Jim McColl with some of the workforce at Ferguson’s shipyard in Post Glasgow.

The dispute on the contract was reviewed by a senior lawyer, whose report is being kept confidential, another example of the much criticised Secret Scotland policies of the SNP.

It is understood to be more favourable to CMAL than to Ferguson’s position, but the review’s scope and caveats leave the contractual dispute open to protracted legal action.

The Scottish government’s position is that Ferguson and Clyde Blowers should pay the additional costs, of about £90m. It is claimed that ministers then want the yard to continue as a successful business.

Douglas Fraser says: “If not, then a sale of the assets could be agreed, with the price set independently.

“The other option is insolvency. From there, issuers of £25 million in bonds would have a first claim on the company’s assets, but the Scottish government also has security over assets.

That is because the Scottish government has loaned Ferguson £45 million over the past five years, in a series of decisions which have provoked controversy at Holyrood.

Sources at Ferguson believe the Scottish government wants to nationalise the yard, in a political project linked to public ownership of rail and other transport operators.

The yard would then become solely focused on a programme of replacement ships for CalMac, which are well behind schedule.

The winner of the franchise for the passenger service linking Orkney and Shetland to the Scottish mainland is due to be announced in the next few weeks, pitting state-owned Cal-Mac against Serco, the incumbent operator.

However, further nationalisation would also put the SNP government under pressure over the cost of sustaining loss-making enterprises, already including Prestwick Airport and BiFab, which has mothballed fabrication yards in Fife and another in Lewis.

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