Phoenix on the Clyde: Five-year plan for Ferguson shipyard to be a centre of excellence
The National, by Janice Burns
The man with the Midas touch Jim McColl has turned a dying Clyde shipyard into a 21st-century business within a year with ambitious plans for 1,300 jobs and £65 million of investment.
Since the billionaire tycoon plucked beleaguered Ferguson Shipbuilder in Port Glasgow from the ashes a year ago after it went into administration and had only five workers left holding it together, it has gone from strength to strength.
McColl, also Clyde Blowers Capital chairman, immediately renamed the company Ferguson Marine Engineering, re-employed the 70 skilled workers who had just been made redundant by the administrators, invested an initial £8m and set it on a course to success with a vision to diversify into servicing the oil and gas, marine and renewables sector.
Now it’s full steam ahead for the inspiring plan. McColl has told The National about his five-year vision to demolish the old shipyard and turn it into a state-of-the art £12m shipping hub with a ten-fold increase in staff by 2020.
The firm is currently building a hybrid electric/diesel ferry for Caledonian MacBrayne and has also lodged a bid to build two large Hebridean ferries, with an announcement due soon.
McColl OBE, who is one of Scotland’s richest men, said: “We now employ 153 staff. When we took it out of administration there were only five but 70 had been made redundant and we did take them back almost immediately. We have since more than doubled the staff.
“We have got the ferry that we are building just now but we have also got quite a bit of work for renewables for offshore oil and gas, producing protective covers for wellheads on the sea bed. It is heavy steel structures to protect them. We also do diving buoys and a range of fabrication for the offshore oil and gas.
“We also had one ship in where we were doing a refit and upgrade on it so that was just converting it so we have been pretty busy but at the same time we are knocking down quite a bit of the yard because we have got a plan to fully invest in it to make it into a 21st-century shipyard and an efficient place to build the ships.
“A lot of the old property has been knocked down just now and we should have all the fabrication and manufacturing operational side done by April or May next year, which will mean we can do most of the work undercover and we will be able to increase our output significantly and build bigger ships.
“Just now we are constrained to 100 metres and we are going to be able to build up to 150-160 metres. Our new offices will be built by August.
“We have got this five-year plan which shows at the top end we could have 1,300 employees but that is a hell of an increase in staff.
“Just now we are investing £12m in the changes we are making at the moment but we have available to invest, provided we can continue to grow, up to £65m so we have plenty of capital available to invest in the business over the next five years.”
He said diversifying into renewables is bringing in a lot of work but his intention is still to be the UK leaders in shipbuilding.
McColl added: “We are currently quoting for ships that service the offshore renewables sector when they are building these windfarms offshore, or sub-sea turbines but with tidal energy. We are also looking at other fabrications for tidal energy.
“I think there is quite a bit of work with the potential for us to diversify into a broad range of areas but we do want to be at the leading edge of shipbuilding and get into repairs more.“We are short of facilities in the UK for ship repairs and we intend to really invest quite a bit in that side of the business as well.“We are looking at three different projects relating to fabrication work to extend certain yachts and install hybrid dry systems in them and refit them out.”
McColl, who made his fortune building up the engineering firm Clyde Blowers, said he was attracted to Fergusons for “sentimental reasons” but there were also sound business opportunities underpinning the buyout.
He said he has never looked back and insisted it has been the hard work and dedication of his team of skilled workers that has boosted the business.
McColl, 63, said: “The workers are absolutely great and we have a fabulous range of skills.
“The ferry we are building just now, we are six months ahead of schedule. Normally people expect them to be late.
“We have a very good workforce and I’ve added 15 apprentices this year and over the next five years we are going to have to look at quite an ambitious apprenticeship programme because some of the older skilled people will be retiring in the next fvive to 10 years so we have to build up a skill=base again.
“I think that is going to offer a lot of really good opportunities for young people because they are very high-quality, good-paying jobs well above the living wage.”
Inverclyde MP Ronnie Cowan praised McColl’s “drive and ambition” for investing in Port Glasgow and boosting jobs.
He said: “Ferguson Marine have already made a positive impact on the local area. To hear of this projected investment in the local yard and potential expansion of the workforce to 1,300 is magnificent.”