How enterprise can flourish when freed of its chains
Shipbuilding is back. Or at least it’s being given a second chance, and it is all down to one man: Jim McColl, who is pledging millions to rebuild and re-energise an old commercial shipyard on the Clyde.
Last year he bought Ferguson Marine out of administration and last week promised hundreds of jobs and a new fabrication yard. All he needs is orders and willing hands and he will be reviving a sector that was effectively dead.
Actually, little of what he told BBC Scotland was new. He has been saying for the past year that he had big plans for the yard. After all, he wouldn’t have bought it unless he believed it had a future.
Last September he told Daily Business that there was a big opportunity in refitting ships and that his innovative ideas included the introduction of Formula 1 technology to shipbuilding. In an interview with the Financial Times in March he spoke about raising his investment to more than £50m and increasing the workforce sixfold.
What is intriguing about all this is how he is doing it when everyone has been led to believe that it is impossible to make money making ships.
Mr McColl starts with an advantage. He is, by some measures, Scotland’s richest man with about a billion tucked away from his various enterprises. That gives him plenty of wriggle room if the odd £50m investment goes wrong.
He is not, however, a gambler. No one gets rich by backing no-hopers. He has done his homework and discovered that there is scope for a commercial shipbuilding industry if only the authorities work with him to make it happen. By putting his money behind some imagination and determination he believes he can give a traditional industry a future in the modern economy.
He also believes that government can, and must, play a bigger part. Daily Business revealed last year that he wanted the state to support tenders with a guarantee similar to the situation in other shipbuilding countries.
Politicians and media commentators who target the wealthy would do well to remember the contribution made by individuals such as Jim McColl.
He has earned his fortune in some unglamorous sectors such as handling and transporting minerals, but these activities have given him a comfortable life. He enjoys the fruits of his international success with a home in Monaco and a line-up of fast cars outside his modest head office in East Kilbride.
He remains loyal and committed to Scotland and to putting something back. He works with government and has helped the unemployed. As such he deserves to be heard, not just because he has the capital to invest, but because he makes things happen, often in the most unlikely of circumstances.