Ex-PM warns of judicial review

Brown says £30m guarantee for BiFab ‘within rules’

Gordon Brown

Gordon Brown: governments need to work together (pic: Terry Murden)

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown insists the Scottish Government could have provided a £30m guarantee to save jobs at BiFab and has urged Westminster to step in to provide the cash.

The Fife-based engineering company won a £30m contract from the French energy company EDF for eight wind turbine jackets to be built in Burntisland and Methil – but the Scottish Government withdrew a guarantee on the deal that it offered only a few months ago.

Alleging ‘a complete failure of government’, Mr Brown – who represented the area in the UK parliament for 32 years – says he has now asked the UK Government to step in and find a solution. 

He wants Westminster to either provide the £30m guarantee or underwrite it, which he says they are legally able to do. He says this is a “test case for whether the two governments can work together to save jobs”.

Burntisand Fabricators

The BiFab yard at Methil faces closure

Mr Brown also warns that he will consider launching a judicial review on the Scottish Government’s decision to withdraw funding.  It comes as a legal opinion for the GMB and Unite unions, written by Lord Davidson QC, describes that decision as “irrational” and one “no reasonable decision maker properly informed would have taken.”

The Scottish Government insists that the provision of the guarantee breaches EU State Aid rules. 

Mr Brown also claims that papers he has seen show that the Scottish Government ministers told parliament that their £30m guarantee was still on the table – yet they had already privately told BiFab’s Canadian owner Barnes it was being pulled.

Mr Brown says the decision to abandon the guarantee was based on dubious and as yet unsubstantiated claims that EU state aid rules prohibited any government support for a contract starting next year.

He says today: “The Scottish Government’s decision to kill off its £30m guarantee to BiFab is an enormous mistake that may cost 400 well-paid Scottish jobs.

“If those jobs go, another North Sea wind turbine contract will be lost to Fife and Scotland, going instead to Asia. That would represent a massive failure of government by this SNP administration.

“This is not us asking the government to save jobs when there is no work. This is where work is available and the government won’t save the jobs.

– Gordon Brown

“We must not let this happen. If Ministers won’t change their minds, I am putting them on notice that we will consider a full judicial review of their decision.

“Lord Davidson’s own opinion is that they did not need to pull the plug. I am also now speaking direct to the UK Government to urge them to support a rescue package. If the Scottish Government won’t save BiFab, then I urge the UK Government to step in and do so. This is a test case for whether the two governments can work together to save jobs.

“The SNP says it is EU state aid rules which prevent them from offering that guarantee. But Lord Davidson questions the integrity of the Scottish Government over their decision to withdraw the guarantee, and their demand that the company be liquidated.

“It raises serious questions about the Government’s decision-making process. When so many jobs are on the line, those questions must now be answered.

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‘First, why are they citing 2020 State Aid rules when we don’t know what those will be when we leave the EU in two months’ time? And secondly, why have they not been working with the UK Government to clear the obstacles in the way of the guarantee? Why has this not happened?”

Mr Brown insists today that BiFab has the capacity to proceed to manufacture the 8 eight ‘wind jackets’ for the major NnG offshore wind project in Scotland. This was the contract for which parent company Barnes had sought government guarantees. 

He says: “I have talked to the Canadian company Barnes which is majority owner of BiFab, to the UK decision makers, and to workers representatives, and I see no reason why this contract should not go ahead.”

UPDATE 30 October:

Scottish Labour MSP Alex Rowley has demanded the Scottish Parliament’s Finance Committee instigate an inquiry into the handling of contract.

Following yesterday afternoon’s summit over the future of the firm, joint trade union leaders have written to the Economy Secretary Fiona Hyslop urging transparency over legal advice which led the Scottish Government to withdraw financial guarantees to support the manufacture of eight turbine jackets for the Neart na Gaiothe (NnG) offshore wind project. 

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