MSPs have condemned the Scottish Government’s decision to end financial support for Bifab without “justifying” it legally.
Following a Labour-led debate at the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday, members narrowly voted for Fife-based MSP Alex Rowley’s motion calling for “concrete plans to be published” in January to make sure future work on renewables comes to Scottish yards.
Members have heard from a number of experts, business leaders and union members on the collapse of the Methil company, which missed out on becoming part of the supply chain for Scotland’s largest offshore wind turbine farm because it was “too expensive”.
Opening the debate, Mr Rowley slammed the “blame game” being used by both the Scottish Government, DF Barnes and owners JV Driver.
He added a “lack of strategy” by the Scottish Government had resulted in the consequences faced by the country’s renewables industry and reiterated calls for legal advice given to Ms Hyslop to be released.
Rennie says Fife workers abandoned
North East Fife Lib Dem MSP Willie Rennie echoed calls being made repeatedly by the unions and Scottish Labour for the legal advice given to the Scottish Government to be released.
He said: “Five hundred workers were on the verge of filling up the Bifab yards to work on the NNG windfarm off the Fife coast.
“This would have provided a real-life connection between the domestic electricity users and these massive turbines that they are ultimately paying for.
“It would have tied the economic wellbeing of industrial communities with our efforts to combat climate change.
“It would have signalled to other companies that Scotland was matching the high rhetoric of Alex Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon and even Keith Brown with delivery.
But it has all come to nothing.
“There will be 54 turbines for the NNG windfarm. But this government can’t even get organised to build eight.
“At no point did the Scottish Government tell parliament that BiFab was on the edge of collapse.
“For two years the Government has boasted that it has saved BiFab but the truth is a couple of hundred temporary jobs were created in the last couple of years.
“If the reports are accurate that the government may lose over £52 million it invested in Bifab it will mean each job cost £262,000 each. A quarter of a million pounds per temporary job.
“If we had paid £50,000 per year to each worker to sit at home and do nothing for the next five years we’d still have money left over.
He added: “It is an astonishing waste of money but what is even more wasteful is the failed opportunity to bring economic opportunities for hundreds of people in Scotland.
“The government is expert at working groups, reviews and studies. If setting up working groups and turning over stones created jobs, we’d have full employment in this country by now.
“This government’s incompetence on industrial planning is astonishing. This government does not have an industrial strategy, it only has a media strategy.
“The government should publish the legal advice on state aid without delay.
The government should immediately contact EDF and Siapen to ensure those eight jackets can still be built here if we get our act together.”
Let Islands yards be used by other companies
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant urged the Scottish Government to either step up or step out and allow more competent yard owners to take over, which would enable the yards to become leaders in the fabrication sector.
She said: “I understand there is interest in the Arnish yard that could bring jobs and wealth to our local economy.
“It is a similar position in Machrihanish where the CS Wind yard lies empty and turbines are sourced from abroad. Again, a yard with public investment but failing to bring jobs to our communities.
“The same is true of Burntisland and Methil, if the Scottish Government and DF Barnes are a dead hand then they must transfer them to organisations that will bring green jobs and work to our Scottish yards.”
Green New Deal cannot just be about words
Mid Scotland and Fife Scottish Green MSP Mike Ruskell said: “I don’t doubt the Scottish Government’s desire to see Bifab flourish, but it’s not acceptable for this government to continually throw up its hands as a minority shareholder and say it can do nothing when it has had clear opportunities in the past to take a majority stake in the company and take control in the boardroom.
“Undoubtedly, the lack of conditionality within the contracts for difference process continues to be a problem for Bifab and the rest of the UK renewables supply chain. The UK Government has failed to create a jobs guarantee that would clearly be in the public interest.”
“Alongside CFD reform, that jobs guarantee must also be delivered through Crown Estate Scotland leases. Supply chain statements from companies looking to bid for the next round of windfarms in Scottish waters are being produced right now.
“The frustration of communities in Fife and the Western Isles is palpable, it’s not the first time they have been let down, but it must be the last and the promise of a Green New Deal can’t just be about words and intent, it has to put food on the table – and fast.
Government did ‘all it could’
Economy secretary Fiona Hyslop repeated her argument state aid rules prevent ministers from bailing out the company
She said: “I have considered all legal options for continued financial support to Bifab by the Scottish Government.
“My conclusion – that the Scottish Government can no longer continue to support the business currently – is based on a range of facts, including the current position of the business, its trading forecasts, its prospects for future work and the continued no-risk position of the majority shareholder.
“We’ve explored a range of alternatives, including state ownership, but have concluded that there is no legally compliant way for us to do so.”
She continued in her assertion legal advice would not be released.