MSPS have narrowly passed a motion that “condemns” the Scottish Government for its decision to withdraw financial guarantees from the BiFab yards.
The Labour motion, which was passed by 61 votes to 60, said this guarantee was needed for Burntisland Fabrications (BiFab) to fulfil a contract to build turbine jackets for the NnG North Sea wind farm.
An amendment from the Tories calling on the Scottish Government to ensure “commitments on renewables are part of a coherent industrial strategy for the post-Covid-19 era” was also passed by 61 votes to two, with 58 abstentions.
Earlier in a debate on the BiFab situation, the chamber heard how the Scottish Government considered taking the plant into state ownership, but ruled it would not be lawful.
READ MORE: BiFab claims Scottish Government ‘untruthful’ over financial claims
Economy Secretary Fiona Hyslop told MSPs that ministers have ruled out nationalising the struggling firm and they “can no longer lawfully support the company financially”.
A £2 billion deal collapsed for BiFab to manufacture eight wind turbine jackets at its yard in Methil, Fife, as part of the Neart Na Gaoithe (NnG) project.
BiFab, which also has yards in Burntisland and Lewis, 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.
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.”
Opening the debate, Labour MSP Alex Rowley described the Scottish Government’s blaming of state aid, JV Driver and a lack of a long-term strategy as “red herrings”.
He 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.
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.
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said letting BiFab collapse will be an “astonishing waste of money” and a “failed opportunity to bring economic opportunities for hundreds of people in Scotland”.
He added: “Five-hundred workers were on the verge of filling up the BiFab yards to work on the NnG windfarm off the Fife coast but the Scottish Government couldn’t even get organised to build eight turbines.
“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 – that’s over a quarter of a million pounds per temporary job.
“The Government should publish the legal advice on state aid without delay and immediately contact EDF and Siapen to ensure those eight jackets can still be built here if we get our act together.”
READ MORE: Fife plant owner ‘shocked’ by Scottish Government’s withdrawal of financial support
Scottish Conservative MSP Liz Smith said the situation at BiFab is “deeply damaging” and said it raised “significant concerns” about the Scottish Government’s green policy.
Scottish Green MSP Mark Ruskell said: “Yes, the yards needed considerable investment, but on the horizon was the promise of a commercially viable offshore renewable sector with work for generations to come.
“If this Government is serious about a green new deal then it will have to put public ownership of energy at the heart of its industrial strategy and deliver on it.”
Workers have held protests over the lack of support for the plant
After labour’s motion was passed, Mr Rowley said: “This vote is a wake-up call to SNP ministers who have been found asleep at the wheel.
“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 tonight, and sent a clear message to the SNP Government: we will not allow you to give up on the green jobs of Scotland’s future.”
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said: “The SNP’s pleas that the economic crisis is everyone’s fault but its own just don’t ring true.
“The Scottish Government is still sitting on £2.2 billion of unallocated Barnett consequentials.
“Small businesses across Scotland will be deeply disappointed tonight that SNP MSPs declined to offer them more support, and instead chose merely to heap praise on themselves.”