Ferguson Marine: Government must act now to secure future of shipyard

In politics, two things about your worldview are quite often true. One, you can stand still on your beliefs and have the same views 10 years apart but in that time the political spectrum can move past you.

For example, when I first stood to be depute leader of the SNP I was labelled as a socialist and on the far left of the party. Since then my politics have remained consistent but not many people refer to me as a left-winger these days.

Another is that when the facts change, a politician should change their mind when it comes to decision-making. Back in 2014, when Ferguson’s shipyard in Port Glasgow called the administrators in, I was invited to join the task force to save it from closure. For a time, it looked like we were getting very close to the gates shutting for good on the last shipyard on the lower Clyde. What a travesty that would’ve been.

Almost everyone in Inverclyde either worked in a shipyard, knew someone who worked in a shipyard or was related to someone who worked in a shipyard. My mum’s dad worked in the yards, her brother worked in the Scotts Shipyard in Greenock, as did one of my dad’s brothers and all of the journeymen who taught me my own trade on the tools.

To our area’s shame, we allowed our Goliath Crane to be destroyed to make way for yet another prosaic housing development. Once-thriving shipyard areas have been replaced by fast-food drive-throughs.

For the workers in the yard and the very pride of Inverclyde, it was simply not an option to allow the area to continue its story without shipbuilding being a part of it.

Back in 2014, I wanted the Scottish Government to bring the yard into public ownership as I thought, in the run-up to the referendum, that was the best move for its future. However, I didn’t realise Alex Salmond had managed to encourage one of Scotland’s greatest industrialists, Jim McColl, to save it.

Orders followed, and £27 million was invested into the yard to make it fit for the future. Sadly we then had the saga of the failed procurement of vessels 801 and 802. Again the yard faced administration, but on this occasion, I didn’t support nationalisation.

I had spent the best part of my life in local government trying to attract inward investment to Inverclyde. It seemed to me like an act of economic madness to have attracted McColl to Inverclyde to then for political reasons seemingly work to seize control of the yard from him.

The talks I facilitated in 2019 again saved the yard from administration but sadly the only person willing to invest millions of pounds in Inverclyde – with the exception of the locally based Easdale family – was forced out of Ferguson’s.

This is now in the past but it is a recent history that casts a dark shadow over the future of Ferguson’s. Not only have those who were complicit in creating the Glen Sannox saga jeopardised confidence in the yard winning future orders, but the excessive design changes that caused the scandal have trapped its sister ship Glen Rosa in the yard for much longer than should have been the case.

As a result, we have already lost hundreds of millions in orders to Türkiye when those vessels could have been sustaining supply chains and jobs in Scotland.

This means the Scottish Government should be under no illusions that without a pipeline of work to keep the yard alive there will be no shipbuilding left in Inverclyde within a matter of a couple of years.

The direct award of Scottish Government ferry orders to Ferguson’s shipyard is vital to ensure that a pipeline of work exists to keep the yard alive after the Glen Sannox and Glen Rosa are delivered.

I first wrote to the responsible Cabinet secretary asking them to embrace this policy several years ago.

First, they told me they couldn’t because of EU rules and then when Scotland was taken out of the EU they told me direct awards weren’t possible because of the new UK Procurement Act.

My response to this is simple – if you want to end up in court with the UK Government then instead of a court battle over an issue that has no popular support, have the UK Government take us to court to try and stop the Scottish Government building Scottish ferries in Scotland.

It’s time for the Scottish Government to act and put in place strong foundations that could see 1000 new jobs created on the Lower Clyde. An announcement should be made in the Scottish Parliament tomorrow on a decision to directly award CalMac ferry orders to Ferguson’s.

My party, Alba, wants to see the abolishment of CMAL – the procurement organisation to blame for the ferries scandal – and the establishment of a new integrated Ferries Scotland body.

Ferries Scotland would see the amalgamation of CalMac, which runs the ferries, CMAL and the nationalised shipyard that should be building the ferries, resulting in a single body responsible for the procurement, design, construction and operation of Scotland’s ferry fleet.

This would be the catalyst for a maritime industrial strategy which should see the Scottish Government bring Inverclyde’s Inchgreen Dry Dock into public ownership to aid the revival of the Lower Clyde.

The dry dock has lain empty for 20 years with many broken promises to maintain and return it to a fully operational marine facility.

With determination and drive, the efforts to have this strategic facility become fully operational in its primary function as a shipbuilding, maintenance and repair facility as part of a Scottish maritime strategic partnership can be realised. The Alba Party supports these aims and we urge others to do likewise.

The Scottish Government must act now to ensure Ferguson’s stays alive after the Glen Sannox and Glen Rosa are finally at sea serving the island communities that badly need them and this requires immediate clarity on the issue of direct awards of Scottish taxpayer-owned ferries to Scotland’s nationally owned shipyard.

Direct award is the only game in town if we want to see the short-term survival of the yard so that can lead to a thriving future.

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