Bifab: MSPs vote for government to reverse plans to remove support for yards

An aerial view of the Bifab yard in Fife.An aerial view of the Bifab yard in Fife.
An aerial view of the Bifab yard in Fife.
The Scottish Government must act to secure the future of the closure-threatened Bifab yards after MSPs voted to ensure a a £30m wind turbine contract already won by the firm is completed.

Despite an attempt by Economy Secretary Fiona Hyslop to blame the firm’s majority shareholder, JV Driver, for the failure of the yards to win work, and a claim that fully nationalising the yards was not lawful, MSPs voted to force the government, which has already invested more than £50m in Bifab, to reverse its decision to withdraw support.

A Scottish Labour motion on the future of the Burntisland, Methil and Arnish yards scraped through in Holyrood by 61 votes to 60.

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MSPs demanded the government bring forward a “concrete plan” on bringing renewable energy work to Scotland in January, that it engage with the workforce's representatives, and that it ask for the help of the UK Government “to urgently negotiate with EDF and Saipem to find a solution” to ensuring that an NnG contract for eight wind turbine platforms is carried out in the yards.

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Scottish Labour economy and jobs spokesperson Alex Rowley said the vote was a “wake-up call to ministers”, and added: “It is crucial that the SNP government gets to work right away on the necessary remedial action to provide support for BiFab now and secure a long-term future for its yards.

Workers and their unions must be at the heart of this. Parliament has spoken with a clear voice, and sent a clear message: we will not allow you to give up on the green jobs of Scotland's future.”

He also described the Scottish Government's blaming of state aid, JV Driver and a lack of a long-term strategy as “red herrings” and said it cannot “sit back and allow the work of Scottish offshore renewables to go to countries in Asia”, where prices are driven down by low-cost labour, state-led investment and subsidies.

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The Scottish Government has argued state aid rules prevent ministers from bailing out the company but Mr Rowley called for the legal advice to be published.

During the debate Economy Secretary Fiona Hyslop told MSPs that ministers had ruled out nationalising the struggling firm and “can no longer lawfully support the company financially” after a £2 billion deal for BiFab to manufacture eight wind turbine jackets collapsed.

BiFab had previously had to be rescued by the Scottish Government in 2017, with the company then acquired by Canada-based JV Driver in April 2018.

The Scottish Government, which remains a minority shareholder, has reportedly been offered JV Driver's shares at no cost but Ms Hyslop insisted public ownership would be unlawful under state aid rules.

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“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.”

However Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said letting BiFab collapse would be an “astonishing waste of money”.

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