By Bill Heaney

It sounded like a Mayday call at sea. Desperate situations require desperate measures to resolve them, and the ferries fiasco across the water in Port Glasgow is becoming more and more desperate by the day, if not the hour.

Labour MSP Neil Bibby asked the Scottish Government today what funding it will provide to support the work of the Inverclyde task force, including in relation to investment in facilities at Ferguson Marine.

The Cabinet Secretary for Wellbeing Economy, Fair Work and Energy Neil Gray, told the Scottish Parliament: “Ministers participate in the work of the Inverclyde task force to examine new ways of enabling a successful and sustainable well-being economy to thrive in the area.

Minister for Economy, Fair Work and Energy Neil Gray and Labour spokesman Neil Bibby MSP.

“The task force joint chairs have submitted a letter to the Minister for Small Business, Trade and Innovation, setting out a number of investment proposals, which will be given detailed consideration by the Scottish Government.

“Separately, a formal request for capital investment has been made by Ferguson Marine (Port Glasgow) and is currently undergoing due diligence. Ministers will update Parliament once that process is concluded, should further investment in Ferguson Marine be agreed.”

But Neil Bibby pressed on: “The GMB trade union, supported by parties from across the chamber, has made the Government aware of an impending deadline for placing an order for a new plating line at Ferguson’s.

“Workers and management are clear that the investment is essential to improving efficiency and securing a future for the yard. Failure to do that urgently will result in many more months of delay.

“The Inverclyde task force was established because the former finance secretary believed that it could make the case for levering in funding to Inverclyde.

“Recent job losses make the need even greater. Will the Government commit today to investing in facilities at Ferguson’s and to providing additional cash to kick-start the Inverclyde economy? If it will not do that today, when will a decision be made?”

The tree had been shaken … but no significant monkeys fell out.

Neil Gray said: “I am due to meet union officials with Stuart McMillan, who has invited them to Parliament, in order to discuss those issues and others. Mr Bibby will be aware of the state aid and subsidy control issues that are at play with regard to this request, but we continue to scrutinise that and look to do everything we can to ensure that the yard is supported, within the powers and resources that we have. As he would expect, we will continue to engage with both management and trade unions.”

His SNP colleague, Stuart McMillan, said: “As co-chair of the Inverclyde task force, I want to be clear that the recent funding asks from the task force and the funding ask from a cross-party group of politicians regarding Ferguson Marine are two separate matters.

“The task force has outlined several ambitious projects for Inverclyde. There is an extremely urgent and important need for investment in Ferguson Marine, so I ask the cabinet secretary to update members as quickly as possible after the due diligence process has been completed.”

Neil Gray added: “We will consider the issue of Ferguson Marine as quickly as possible and will update him and other colleagues as quickly as we can once the due diligence process has been completed.”

Later, at First Minister’s Questions, the issue of the Glen Sannox and Glen Rosa ferries was raised again, this time by the Tories.
Graham Simpson (Central Scotland), pictured left, asked the First Minister: “The cost of building the Glen Sannox and the Glen Rosa is an on-going scandal. We do not know when they will be finished, what the final bill will be and what has happened to all the money.
“The Auditor General says he needs extra powers in order to find out what has happened to £128 million of money that was spent by Ferguson Marine Engineering Ltd—FMEL. Will the First Minister grant those powers?”

Humza Yousaf did not commit. He told MSPs: “There have been a number of inquiries with which the Scottish Government and those at Ferguson’s have co-operated fully. Hundreds of documents on what is happening at Ferguson’s have been published and put into the public domain.

“I will not hesitate in apologising to our island communities for the fact that they are still waiting on the completion of hulls 801 and 802. What I will not do is apologise for the fact that the Scottish Government stepped in and made sure that we secured and saved hundreds of jobs in Inverclyde.”

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