Unions and politicians hit out as Arnish is snubbed for wind farm contract

Politicians and unions have reacted with anger and disappointment after the Arnish fabrication yard in failed to secure any work on a major offshore wind farm project.

By Kevin McRoberts
Thursday, 24th September 2020, 7:10 am
The Arnish yard failed for secure any work for the Seagreen wind farm project.
The Arnish yard failed for secure any work for the Seagreen wind farm project.

BiFab, operators of the Stornoway yard, as well as sites in Methil and Burntisland in Fife, had hoped to secure work on the contract to fabricate jackets and suction caissons for the first phase of SSE’s Seagreen offshore wind farm.

But the contract was awarded to Texas-based Fluor Corporation, with all of the platforms for its 114 turbines are being manufactured in China and the United Arab Emirates.

SSE Renewables, a division of the Perth-based energy firm developing Seagreen, claimed it had worked hard to try to ensure some of the work went to a Scottish contractor, but insisted the price gap between the Chinese and Scottish yards was just too big.

A spokesman said: “We wanted nothing more than to award work to a Scottish firm that would help set them up for future success.

“Unfortunately, on this occasion, the gap between BiFab’s offering and that of competing fabricators was too significant to close.”

DFBarnes, the Canadian company which bought BiFab in 2018, expressed its bitter disappointment at the decision – and hit out at SSE for not backing Scottish industry.

In a statement, DF Barnes said: “Since acquiring BiFab, we have been trying exceptionally hard to get people back to work in our yards.

“Instead, Scottish and Southern Energy, in the face of what could be one of the worst recessions in modern history, has chosen to give all the fabrication work for one of the largest offshore windfarm projects in the world to companies in China and the UAE.”

SSE also came under fire from trades unions, with Hazel Nolan, an official with GMB, saying: “We warn industry majors like SSE and the governments at Holyrood and Westminster that constant disappointment is now turning to growing anger – our communities dependent on offshore wind fabrication contracts are being totally failed, and so is the country.”

Pat Rafferty, Scottish secretary of Unite the Union, was equally scathing about the decision.

He said: “The onshore and offshore wind sector in Scotland is on life support. Now we have SSE, through contractors, subcontracting work to China as we have repeatedly warned would happen on the Seagreen project.

“The message is build anywhere but here in Scotland, which is shameful. We have a number of manufacturing yards more than capable of contributing to these multi-billion pound contracts, including at BiFab in Fife and Lewis, and CS Wind in Campbeltown. We are no longer even getting scraps from the table.”

Angus MacNeil, Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP, described the decision as a “betrayal by Seagreen and parent company SSE” and said Arnish really needed the work.

Alasdair Allan, Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP, said that Seagreen 1 was expected to be one of the one of the largest offshore wind farms in the UK, and that there were yards in Lewis and Fife which have a proven track record in delivering high-quality manufacturing.

“Instead of this work being done in Scotland, SSE have awarded it to a company 6,000 miles away at the other side of the Eurasian landmass,” he said.

“This is another missed opportunity deliver work to yards like Arnish.

“There is a pressing need for the UK Government to reform the Contract for Difference funding scheme which subsidises these renewable developments to ensure these projects actually deliver benefits to the local supply chain in Scotland.”

The news that none of the fabrication work for the Seagreen offshore wind farm project had been awarded to BiFab brought an angry response from Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant.

She raised the issue in Holyrood this week, asking the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture, Fiona Hyslop, if the Crown Estate would guarantee that its first round of Scotwind leases would ensure that there was local content in these projects and that they would adopt fair work practices.

Mrs Grant added: “Too often we see work going to overseas yards that undercut us by using low wage economies to compete. When companies are making money out of Scotland’s natural resources, we should ensure that that work is carried out by people paid and protected in the same way as they would be in Scotland.

“Furthermore, given these are our natural resources our communities should also benefit from the economic boost of these jobs. Workers in Lewis and Fife should be employed making the turbines required for the Seagreen wind farm.”

Mrs Grant continued: “I also asked the Cabinet Secretary if the Scottish Government would look at the historical practice of bidders for Scotwind leases.

“It would be simply wrong for companies who overlooked the Scottish workforce in the past to get these contracts on the promise of doing better in the future.”