‘Veil of secrecy must be lifted’

Trade unions have called for transparency over legal advice which led the Scottish Government to withdraw financial guarantees which could have brought work back to BiFab.
The Scottish Government have come under fire for failing to release legal opinion.The Scottish Government have come under fire for failing to release legal opinion.
The Scottish Government have come under fire for failing to release legal opinion.

The call follows last week’s crucial summit over the future of stricken renewables manufacturing firm BiFab.

The unions have written to the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work & Culture Fiona Hyslop MSP, calling for the information to be released.

The financial guarantees were to support the manufacture of eight turbine jackets for the Neart na Gaiothe (NnG) offshore wind project.

The lifeline deal collapsed, sparking concerns for the future of the company.

GMB Scotland Secretary Gary Smith and Unite Scotland Secretary Pat Rafferty said: “We’ve said time and again that all difficult questions are the Scottish Government’s to answer and this remains the case after yesterday’s meeting – this veil of secrecy must be lifted.

“It’s neither acceptable or credible for the Minister to not share the details of the legal advice which prompted the government to walk away from BiFab, these are exceptional circumstances and very much in the public interest given its importance to Scotland’s industrial future.

“The First Minister said she would ‘leave no stone unturned’ to save these yards but if we are to do that then we need to know the full facts behind her Cabinet Secretary’s decision to remove the financial guarantees for this lifeline contract, and time is of the essence.

“BiFab remains on the brink but the battle to save these yards goes on, and with it our best chance at building a meaningful offshore wind manufacturing supply chain in Scotland.”

Meanwhile Labour have also waded into the argument with The Scottish Parliament’s Finance Committee being told they should instigate an inquiry into the handling of a £30 million EDF North Sea contract offered to the BiFab fabrication yards, Scottish Labour MSP Alex Rowley has demanded.

Former Advocate General for Scotland Lord Davidson QC this week intervened to dispute the Scottish Government’s assertion that assisting BiFab would breach EU state aid rules.

In his letter to committee convener Bruce Crawford, Scottish Labour MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife Alex Rowley says: “I do not believe that we have been informed on critical issues of the progress of this case.

“First, the government claims that legal opinion exists that explains why it cannot help BiFab because of EU state aid rules, but will not tell us the gist of the opinion nor tell us who wrote the opinion and by whom it was actually commissioned. Ministers can decide that it is in the public interest to release legal opinions and this is what should be done now.

“Second, the government has failed, until the UK Government contacted them, to talk to the UK government even when the critical issue, is, they say, EU state aids and whether the guarantee could be ruled illegal. It seems strange to be dogmatic about EU state aids when we leave the EU before the work starts in Burntisland and do not know what the regime will then be.”

“Third, the question of trust. A number of figures are being thrown around by the Scottish government suggesting liabilities that the company and I do not recognise.

“Fourth, North Sea renewable work is considered the ‘jewel in the crown’ for both Scottish and UK governments, but we are losing a stake in the North Sea because of our decisions.

“This was work that was won by BiFab, and the £30m contract would have secured income for BiFab. Withdrawing the guarantee at a time when we need work is a threat to jobs, the industry in Fife and the Western Isles and to the Scottish renewables future.

Last week, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the Scottish Government will do what it can to help BiFab – but that it must follow state aid rules.

When questioned by MSP Claire Baker at First Minister’s Questions, Ms Sturgeon said: “We will continue to do all we can to support the business while recognising the need for us to remain in line with the state aid regulations and overall financial constraints.

“We will leave no stone unturned. We have invested significantly. We are a significant shareholder in BiFab. It would make no sense for the government, let alone the workers in the wider community, for us to simply allow BiFab to go to the wall. If there is a way for us to avoid that happening, we will explore every option to save BiFab.”

Responding to last weeks reports indicating that the Canadian owners have withdrawn their bid for the contract to build jackets for wind turbines Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “Frankly ministers need to explain why they have not been able to fulfil their promise to workers in Lewis and Fife.

“It’s twelve years since the SNP declared that Scotland was going to be the Saudi Arabia of renewables. Instead we have seen contracts and jobs drift away overseas.

“They have been stringing people along for all this time when they should have been working on a plan for delivering these jobs and getting this work for Scotland.

“A green recovery from the covid crisis should be an absolute priority and that should start with getting BiFab up and running again.”

Campaign group Action for Arnish said: “Once again, we are utterly dismayed to learn that not even the hoped-for crumbs of the Neart na Gaoithe cake will come to Scotland, far less to Arnish. The refusal of the Scottish Government to underwrite the contract is disappointing to say the least.”