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There was renewed hope of resolving Arran’s ferry fiasco this week when administrators for the Ferguson Marine announced that they have held talks with a number of potential buyers of the nationalised shipyard.
Around 20 expressions of interest have been received to take over the shipyard which is believed to be offered for sale in the vicinity of £60 million.
When Ferguson Marine went into administration on Friday August 16, control of the facility was handed over to the Scottish ministers in a management agreement with administrators Deloitte UK.
According to the deal if no private buyer is found within four weeks of the date of administration then Scottish ministers will buy the concern, in which they have already invested over £45.
News of new owners and a potential delivery date would end months of uncertainty and be welcomed by the 343 employees of the shipyard which is currently building the MV Glen Sannox, and which is destined for the Ardrossan to Brodick route, along with a second ship known only as Hull 802.
A return to progress from the yard would also be welcomed, by not only the tax-payers who are effectively paying for the vessels to be built and for staff wages, but also from the Arran public who have seen delay after delay with the delivery of the Glen Sannox which was meant to be completed by summer 2018 and is now not excepted to be completed until 2021.
The Scottish Government remains open to discussion with any parties interested in a commercial future for the Ferguson Marine shipyard, Economy Secretary Derek Mackay told the Scottish parliament on Tuesday.
Mr Mackay said: ‘My focus is, and has always been, on ensuring completion of the two public sector ferries at the best value for money for the taxpayer, while also working towards the delivery of the other vessels under construction at the yard, and in doing so securing jobs for the workforce through continuity of employment.
‘The Scottish Government will at all times remain open to discussions with any parties interested in securing a viable commercial future for the yard. But we will also explore the option of keeping the yard in public ownership, and how this might protect sustainable shipbuilding on the lower Clyde.
‘While clearly there is much work yet to do, our actions have ensured that there will be a future for Fergusons,’ he added.
The decision to nationalise the shipyard has faced intense criticism from political opponents and from one of North America’s largest shipbuilders, Davie Shipyard in Canada, who described public control of Ferguson Marine as ‘insanity’ and ‘a slow motion car-crash’ for workers and taxpayers.
But Arran MSP Kenneth Gibson hit back saying: ‘How many jobs in total, including in the supply chain, would have been lost if we had just abandoned the yard to market forces, as the Tories believe we should have?
‘How much longer would the islanders on Arran and in the Hebrides have had to wait for their new ferries if FMEL had been allowed to close—an outcome that, for ideological reasons, the Tories seemed happy to see?’
The Scottish Government is operating the yard under a management agreement with the administrators while the yard sale process is completed.
As part of the agreement entered into with the administrators, the Scottish Government will acquire Ferguson Marine Engineering Limited (FMEL) at the end of that process should no viable commercial offer be forthcoming during that period. This process is expected to last another two to four weeks and involves the administrator undertaking a market testing exercise.
A Scottish government spokeswoman added: ‘Our first priority is to establish a new delivery programme to ensure the completion of the CMAL ferry contracts.’
The MV Glen Sannox is launched at Port Glasgow in November 2017. NO_B34ferguson01