Ministers under pressure amid fears Arnish yard on Lewis is on the brink of closure

Arnish Yard in Stornoway

Scottish ministers were under growing pressure last night to step in to save the Arnish yard in Lewis amid fears it could shut down within days.

Trade unions warned that the Western Isles site could soon become an “industrial graveyard” after redundancy notices were issued to BiFab staff.

Local sources confirmed that they expected Arnish to close imminently, within two or three weeks at the latest.

Matt Bruce, chairman of the Western Isles Labour Party, said: “Whilst it is a statutory 45-day notice across BiFab, it is the end for the jobs at Arnish.”

The yard is already down to just 30 employees – vastly reduced from the 160 workers on site three months ago – and there is understood to be almost no manufacturing work left to be completed.

Talks over the future of the yard were due to be held in Stornoway today between union leaders, Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and Western Isles Council.

A total of 260 BiFab jobs in Fife and Lewis face the axe because work linked to the Beatrice offshore windfarm in the Moray Firth is almost complete.

BiFab said it was doing “everything possible to avoid redundancies”, and that “a number of target projects remain under tender”, but the timing involved in securing the work was becoming “critical”.

The Scottish Government brokered a deal to stave off administration until the end of the Beatrice project in November but unions said yesterday that a similar rescue package was required again.

Unite’s regional officer Bob McGregor says: “That’s the only way we can avoid these areas being transformed into an industrial graveyard.”

Alan Ritchie, Scotland organiser for the GMB union, said: “All is not lost and there is still hope but time is of the essence.”

Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant said: “Workers and their families are rightly very concerned about the future of their jobs and there needs to be immediate action by the Scottish Government to see what can be done to help them.”

Lewis Macdonald MSP, who was recently appointed Scottish Labour energy spokesman, said the issues at BiFab were “symbolic” of a wider issue.

“Investment in new energy has to have a positive impact on manufacturing. The Scottish Government needs to realise there’s a bigger picture and a bigger problem.”

Scottish Greens MSP Mark Ruskell urged HIE to “step up” its efforts to secure the jobs , and the agency insisted it was “playing our part to try to secure a positive outcome”.

Business, Innovation and Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse said the government had been “fully focussed and working intensively” to secure a long-term future for the firm.

“We understand from BiFab that the proposed number of employees is being reduced in line with programmed contract performance and completion which reflects the cyclical nature of the business and employment patterns,” he added.

“Ministers recognise that more work remains to be done to secure the long term future of the company and are fully committed to offering support where possible to attract long term investment in this vital sector of the Scottish supply chain and economy.”