Is nationalistation an option to get ferry contract finished?

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By Hugh Boag

There have been repeated claims this week that the Scottish government is considering nationalising of the Ferguson Marine shipyard in a big to resolve a bitter dispute over the building of the new Arran ferry and her sister ship.

Nationalisation is being viewed as a way out of the bitter dispute with yard owner Jim McColl to allow completion of the two ferry contract.

But while the move is hailed as a possibility there has been little in the way of facts since it was first touted by a BBC business reporter last Friday and the story appeared to come straight from the office of finance secretary Derek Mackay.

First reports had Mr Mackay, the finance and economy secretary, handling the talks with Clyde Blowers, Mr McColl’s holding company thereby taking the dispute out the hands of Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL), the government-owned firm that placed the orders and owns CalMac’s fleet. By the middle of the week Mr Mackay was leading the nationalisation push.

What the outcome of it all will be remains to be seen but the Scottish government has moved in to help loss-making enterprises, already including Prestwick Airport and BiFab, which has mothballed fabrication yards in Fife and another in Lewis.

However, despite all the talk there has been little change to the position outlined in the Banner two weeks ago when Ferguson Marine were demanding £61 million on top of the £97 million original contract to complete the MV Glen Sannox and her sister ship still only known as Hull 802.

That figure could be even higher it was suggested this week but the Scottish government looks increasingly unlikely to agree to hand over any more money as this was previously ruled after an independent review.

It is being suggested that if they Scottish government were to take over the yard, which presently has a workforce of around 350, as a political project it would become solely focused on a programme of replacement ships for CalMac, which are well behind schedule. Insolvency may be the only other option if the solution cannot be found.

The only official comment from the Scottish government this week 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.’

A spokesman for Ferguson Marine Engineering Ltd was quoted as saying: ‘We continue to engage with both the Scottish government and CMAL, and remain fully committed to securing the long-term future of the yard.’