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Opinion: Gordon Brown – Scottish Government has let down BiFab

A worker looks out over the yard at BiFab in Methil.
A worker looks out over the yard at BiFab in Methil.

With news of BiFab’s contract loss to a foreign firm placing the company’s future under threat, former Prime Minister and Kirkcaldy MP Gordon Brown writes exclusively for The Courier on the fight for its survival.

Former prime minister Gordon Brown 

I was brought up in Kirkcaldy a few miles from Burntisland Shipbuilders. It was a famous manufacturing name and it even had its own football team.

I can still look out my window to Burntisland and glimpse what is now Burntisland Fabricators.

I’ve worked with BiFab through difficult times and have been delighted to see it go on to transition from oil and gas to successfully establish a foothold in the renewables sector as wind farms begin to multiply in the North Sea.

A North sea that becomes a Green Sea is the best hope for creating hundreds of jobs – building wind turbines and the sub-sea platforms upon which they stand, known as ‘jackets’.

The BiFab yard in Methil.

A few months ago, the French firm EDF awarded BiFab a £30m contract to build eight massive jackets. The recent contract is part of a £2billion investment in North Sea renewables.

The turbines will generate enough energy per year to power all of Edinburgh. The EDF order was the toehold the company needed, guaranteeing it a role in the next stage of the North Sea’s development. It ensured 400 jobs.

Unless things change over the weekend, we are witnessing the final days of a once great company which could be reduced to liquidation. Instead of Scottish workers, Indonesian yards could be the main beneficiary.

The hammer blow is the Scottish Government’s refusal to honour a £30m guarantee to underwrite the wind turbine contract. It is of course already a national scandal that so many contracts for billions of pounds of wind farms off Scottish shores are being awarded to yards in Indonesia, China and Korea.

This is despite promises from both Scots and UK Governments that 60% of offshore renewable work would come to workers and communities here.

Workers from crisis-hit fabrication firm BiFab march through Edinburgh to the Scottish Parliament IN 2017.

Only a few days ago, in his party conference speech, Boris Johnson pledged that investment in offshore wind will create “60,000 jobs in this country and help us to get to net zero carbon emissions by 2050”.

Alex Salmond once promised Scotland would be the “Saudi Arabia of renewables”.
BiFab was crucial so what has gone wrong?

The Scottish Government says EU state aid legislation prevents the guarantee. It says they have legal advice saying as much.

The GMB Union has now got legal advice too, from the former Attorney General Lord Davidson QC. It makes clear, according to the publicly available information, the sudden withdrawal of the financial guarantee was “irrational”.

The EU state aid regime of 2021 will be different from that of 2020 after we leave the European Union. Lord Davidson says it is “remarkable” the Scottish Government didn’t just defer the decision until after the end of this year.

It does not seem to have sought help from the UK government that is negotiating the new state aid package. Lord Davidson concludes, they made a decision that “no reasonable decision maker properly informed would have taken”.

BiFab’s Methil yard will benefit from then new £100 million Beatrice contract

As the advice tells us, the UK Government has “greater flexibility” over State Aid. So why haven’t SNP Ministers sought help to try and save a great Scottish yard?

What will make every family reading this really angry is that we are all paying £20 per family per year on a special energy levy to fund development of the renewables – work about to be sent overseas.

How can it be right that pupils in Fife whose schools look onto the coast and who care about climate change, will have to watch as 75 boats using as much diesel as 35million cars a day sail into the North Sea bringing turbines built by workers 7000 miles away?

The Burntisland decision has to be reversed. I have sent Lord Davidson’s legal opinion to the UK and Scottish Governments.

The Unite and GMB unions, led by Pat Rafferty and Gary Smith are leading the fight to save Scottish jobs.

Now I urge the Scottish and UK Government to lay aside their differences and work together to do the same.

A failure to do so would be a dereliction of duty and a betrayal of the workers on the Firth of Forth.

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