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Time is of the essence to secure future of shipyard

The fact four bidders were eager to take the historic Clyde shipbuilder Ferguson out of receivership is, in itself, plainly very positive.

The fact that one of those bids is from Jim McColl, one of Scotland's most successful businessmen, is even more welcome.

Indeed, such is Mr McColl's reputation that the only other known bidders, McGill's bus company owners Sandy and James Easdale, decided to withdraw their interest after The Herald revealed his interest.

This lends further credibility to the bid from the Clyde Blowers tycoon - although in truth the Easdales' offer had seemed short on detail. Mr McColl's proposals, on the other hand, are a promising option for the administrators KPMG.

With the caveat that the identity and plans of two bidders are unknown, it is difficult to see a better hope emerging for salvaging the company.

Mr McColl's track record in the engineering business and in turning around troubled firms is handsomely demonstrated in the difference he made to Weir Pumps, where more than 500 jobs were threatened until he rebuilt the company and grew the workforce. Although now sold on, the pumps business is thriving.

Meanwhile, his plans for Ferguson look realistic. While the yard had already attempted diversification, Mr McColl is correct to consider this needs to be expedited more urgently than so far.

Diversification to date might have been limited in part by a lack of capital. Changing the focus of a company can mean significant up-front investment in new machinery and developing skills within the workforce. It can also simply require deeper pockets that enable initial costs to be borne in sectors where securing work and achieving payment can sometimes take years. For a company struggling with cash flow, that can be an impossible equation to balance.

So one advantage of this bid is that it might give the yard the kind of breathing space needed to establish itself in new areas of business, ones that offer long-term growth.

There are already interesting synergies with work done by Clyde Blowers supplying equipment for military vessels and the oil industry.

Fresh thinking is needed if the yard's 112-year story is to continue. There may also be a case for the Scottish Government to support the yard by bringing forward work that can be offered in the short term and being flexible about the procurement rules by which other countries seem less keen to abide.

The unions will be keen to see a commitment to rehire as many as possible of those who lost their jobs when Ferguson went into administration. Having talked before about taking time to assess bids, KPMG suggests a preferred bidder could now be named early next week.

It is important that this happens. If any bid seems likely to involve rehiring significant numbers of the 70 workers made redundant, a quick sale will be vital so that the most skilled can be brought back before they find alternative work.

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