Its been nearly 40 years since Henry Robb shipyard closed in 1983. Take a look at the mural at the Dockers Club and you’ll see the final 30 workers leave the yard with their heads held high. The last 2 vessels built in 1983 were MV St. Catherine and MV St.Helen. Both ferry boats. It is unlikely that shipbuilding will return to Leith but with planning and political will it should still be part of what Scotland produces to meet its needs . This was brought home recently by the recent announcement that the Scottish Government owned Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited had ordered 2 ferries from Turkey. No Scottish yard made the short list with yards in Poland , Romania and Turkey submitting tenders for the £105m contract. An incredible state of affairs from a party that boasts that it is ‘stronger for Scotland’. Others will be blamed but no responsibility will be taken by the party that has been in Government since 2007.
Could this have been avoided ? Yes with a bit of planning. Its over 10 years since Calmac said that it needed to replace its ageing ferry fleet. Transport Scotland produced a report in 2016 that updated the replacement plan of 2012. This plan took into account what needed to be done and routes to be prioritised. It started with MV Glen Sannox launched on 21st November 2017 by the First Minister and welcomed by an Early Day motion in Westminster submitted by members of the SNP group proudly proclaiming it was built in Scotland and paid for by Scotland. The only problem was that the vessel launched was not complete with painted on windows . It still isn’t complete and neither is vessel 802 which was due to be launched in Summer 2018. Both are now further down the Clyde, MV Glen Sannox is now called vessel 801 , out of sight being worked on with replacement cabling and other works costing nearly £500,000 on top of the original contract.
Gary Smith of the GMB raised the question “ Who thought it was a good idea to purchase a ‘first in class’ vessel for the Ardrossan-Brodick route ? A workhorse that could be put to sea as quickly as possible was the requirement…” . Good question and good point but one both will be avoided by those that launched and those that praised it. This matters as taxpayers money has been squandered. Audit Scotland point out that the capital and interest sums of £97.7m for these two vessels were terminated with the transfer of ownership of Vessels 801 ( formerly MV Glen Sannox) and 802 to the Scottish Government . A value of £74.8m was placed on the vessels and the difference of £22.9m written off in the Scottish Government 2020/21 Consolidated Accounts. That’s our taxes that have paid for this to date.
Yet this could have been avoided . A responsible approach would have involved industry and trade unions led by the Scottish Government working on a planned approach taken to placing orders on a guaranteed work programme over time that provided stability for the industry. Instead we have a nation renowned for shipbuilding and the quality of its engineering placing orders abroad with price the main focal point rather than local employment and no account of the environmental cost of producing abroad what could be produced here.
A similar approach was taken with BiFab. In 2019/20 Accounts the Scottish Government equity stake of £37.4m was written off and a further loan of £4.5m was written off in 2020/21. Work is ongoing with administrators of BiFab to recover public money. An earlier pledge by the Scottish Government in 2010 proclaimed there would be 130,000 green jobs by 2020 but the Office for National Statistics recently reported there were 20,500 in 2020 a fall from 21,700 in 2019. What happened to the promise that Scotland would become ‘the Saudi Arabia of renewables ‘ ? But it’s worse than that. Turbines and jackets are being produced in Indonesia and again price with no factoring in of environmental cost of producing on the other side of the World then exporting to Scotland is taken into account.
The ability to produce in Scotland is there but requires planning with industry so that a production line of skills through colleges, sitting down with employers and trade unions to plan ahead building capacity so that jobs in Burntisland and Orkney with BiFab are not a memory like the jobs lost in Leith at Robbs in 1983. The same party has been in Government since 2007. Ministerial salaries have been drawn but responsibilities have not been shouldered and the promise of 2010 has still to be made manifest. The ability to do it is there. The financial powers to do it are there. It’s the political will and drive that’s missing and we are all the losers financially, environmentally, socially. ■
With all the will in the world
Diving for dear life
When we could be diving for pearls
Henry Robb’s Shipyard in June 1992 (now Ocean Terminal). www.edinphoto.org.uk