Derek Mackay said yesterday the Scottish Government is “ready and willing” to take Ferguson shipyard into public ownership to deliver two new ferries for west coast routes.
The Finance Secretary insisted that ministers were prepared to nationalise the yard to ensure the completion of vessels earmarked for a range of Calmac services in the Hebrides and Arran.
Mr Mackay suggested the step was required to finish the ferries and secure the 350 jobs at the Ferguson Marine yard on the Clyde.
His remarks came amid controversy over the government’s handling of the Ferguson Marine Engineering Ltd (FMEL), which has begun the process of going into administration.
Last week, FMEL said it had no choice but to call in administrators after a long dispute with the government over the delayed contract for the ferries for the Skye to Harris and Ardrossan to Brodick routes.
The firm has argued it stands to lose nearly £40million from the deal. In 2014, the yard was saved from collapse by Clyde Blowers tycoon Jim McColl just days before the Scottish independence referendum in a deal which was partly brokered by former first minister Alex Salmond.
Since then, FMEL has received £45m in Scottish Government loans in the last five years. The yard also secured a £97m contract to build the two Calmac vessels on behalf of the government agency Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL).
However, in the intervening period, the cost of building the boats has almost doubled and the Scottish Government has responded that Clyde Blowers and Fergusons should pay the extra £90m.
Mr Mackay said: “The Scottish Government has been working for over two years to find a resolution to the difficulties at FMEL. Throughout that time, our preference has been to identify viable commercial options to keep the yard going and to finish the vessels. No such solutions have come forward.
“The Scottish Government has now indicated to all relevant parties that we are ready and willing to take Ferguson Marine into public ownership and deliver the ferries to secure the continued employment of the workforce in the yard.
“There remains a process to go through to secure the transfer of the yard to the Scottish Government, and we are hopeful that all parties recognise the importance of completing that transfer as quickly and as smoothly as possible.
“While we are open to engaging with any parties with a serious interest in investing in and securing a future for the shipyard, it is essential the government acts now to secure the completion of the ferries and continuity of employment at Fergusons.”
At the weekend, Mr McColl, who has acted as an economic adviser to Nicola Sturgeon, accused the Scottish Government of “incompetence” over its handling of the issue.
He said the government was acting in a way that was economically damaging “for the local area and for Scotland”.
The businessman argued that the increased cost of the vessels should have been met by CMAL citing a similar case in Quebec where the government stepped in to help.
Mr McColl added that, if the dispute could be resolved, the yard could expand and would have a chance of survival if it could win orders for new Type 31 destroyers.
A CMAL spokeswoman said: “We are keen that the future of the shipyard and its workforce is secured, and a solution is found that will allow the yard to deliver the two dual fuel vessels, which will serve Scotland’s island communities.”