Former PM accuses governments of ‘betraying’ Arnish and BiFab
He has called on both to launch inquiries after it was announced last night that they could give a £30m contract guarantee under existing subsidy rules.
He said the funding would have safeguarded 450 jobs and gained Scotland a foothold in North Sea wind platform work.
Mr Brown, whose former Kirkcaldy constituency included the Burntisland yard - BiFab also has a base in Methil and at Arnish here in the Western Isles- said the workers had “been thrown to the wolves.”
His comments came after the Scottish Government - a minority shareholder in the troubled engineering firm which has Canadian owners - said that it could not give the £30m contract guarantee under existing state aid regulations.
Fiona Hyslop, the Scottish government’s economy secretary, said that its hands were tied, and that BiFab’s situation was “a culmination of a number of issues.”
She said the Scottish Government had “left no stone unturned” in its search to secure the yards’ future.
But the backlash continued, with Mr Brown weighing in with a strongly-worded attack.
He said: “This is nothing less than a betrayal of the BiFab workers and a betrayal too of promises of work for Fife and Lewis in the offshore renewable industry.
“This work has not been lost because the yards cannot do the work, or did not win the work in open competition - it has been lost because after winning the work, the Scottish Government pulled the plug on the company.”
Mr Brown said he had seen the company’s plans and was confident BiFab could deliver.
He continued: “If the real issue is securing guarantees of future investment, I know of potential Chinese interest in investing.”
Mr Brown called for two inquiries from the UK and Scottish Governments - and said Holyrood must “urgently debate” the matter.
He added: “The two governments say a working party is still to meet to explore options for the future of the yards and to strengthen measures to support the renewables supply chain.
“One of these options has to be to restore £30m worth of work on the North Sea wind turbine jackets.”
Meanwhile, Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, is furious that the UK and Scottish Governments have failed the workers at Arnish by claiming there is no legal route to provide further financial support to BiFab in its current form.
Mrs Grant said “This is devastating news for the Arnish workers, their families and the wider community in Lewis. This decision needs to be properly scrutinised and the Scottish Government needs to make the legal advice public in order for that scrutiny to take place.”
She continued “Instead of blaming the yard owners and setting up another talking shop, Scottish Ministers should be looking to their own actions. The Scottish Government, far from saving BiFab, appears to have cost it contracts which has damaged the Western Isles economy.”
“While both of our governments try to turn their backs on the workers at Arnish, I will be pressing for the Lewis yard to be decoupled and allowed to view contracts as a separate entity.”
Commenting on the news that both the UK and Scottish governments are withdrawing their commitment to BiFab, Scottish Labour’s economy, jobs and fair work spokesperson, Alex Rowley, said: “This is a devastating blow for the renewables industry and for jobs in Scotland. There has been a complete failure from both the UK and Scottish Governments to support jobs and the development of the renewables sector in Scotland.
“I call on the Scottish Government to publish the legal advice that led them to pull the guarantee. There is no point of the SNP talking up transition when there are no jobs to transition.”
The STUC has also weighed in and blasted the Scottish Government for acting in bad faith as it sneaked out a joint statement with the UK Government on pulling the plug and breaking promises to keep unions informed of developments.
It said the Government’s timing of the statement and failure to consult with unions was designed to close down any further inspection of their decision-making process or options to save the yards.
STUC Deputy General Secretary Dave Moxham said: “The Scottish Government trumpets its support for ‘Fair Work’ and ‘workers voice’ at every opportunity, but when it comes to key issues such as the future of hundreds of workers at BiFab they shut up shop and conspire with the Tories to keep Scottish workers out of the picture.”
Moxham said the STUC had received what they thought were cast iron guarantees from the Scottish Government that unions would be kept abreast of developments and be able to input their views.
He continued: “Another door has been slammed on the face of Bifab’s workers. The Scotland/UK joint government working group to be formed to consider ways to strengthen the renewables supply chain in Scotland’ is the thinnest of gruel. “
Local MSP, Alasdair Allan commented: “The failure of BiFab to win contracts in the renewables sector recently has been a bitter blow to the workforce at Arnish and to the wider community in Lewis. This is not least because Arnish has some of Europe’s finest facilities for just this kind of work.
“All our efforts should be on asking why the major shareholder in the company will not invest more in winning these contracts. The Scottish Government has committed £50 million to BiFab, despite it only being a minority shareholder in the company.
“Though the Scottish and UK Governments can both see that it would now be illegal under state aid rules for a minority shareholder to attempt to put further money in, that should and will not stop the Scottish Government arguing for this work to come to Scotland.
“The big question is why the UK Government persists with a ‘contracts for difference’ system that clearly works so badly against the interests of fabrication yards like Arnish, and which appears designed to send work overseas.”
Local island MP Angus Brendan MacNeil was asked for comment on the issue but failed to respond.