THE preferred bidder for collapsed Clyde shipbuilder Ferguson is expected to be unveiled as early as Monday, following weekend talks between interested parties and the administrators.
Engineering tycoon Jim McColl was one of four bidders who submitted offers for the Port Glasgow yard by the 5pm deadline on Thursday, the administrators said yesterday. He is pledging to invest "many millions" in Ferguson Shipbuilders and aims to return it to its former glory by creating hundreds of jobs.
Ferguson, which was founded in 1902 and is the last commercial shipbuilder on the Clyde, collapsed into administration last week, with 70 of the remaining 77 employees made redundant.
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Mr McColl's attempt to revive the yard yesterday received the backing of Rangers directors James and Sandy Easdale, owners of bus company McGill's, who had submitted their own bid.
A spokesman for the Easdales said: "The Easdale brothers are delighted that a businessman with Jim McColl's engineering background is keen to take over the yard. Sandy spoke to Jim this morning, and his plans are exactly what Inverclyde needs. We are informed that our bid is competitive and has reached the shortlist but we feel that Jim McColl is better equipped to take the yard forward. We said all along that we would step aside if somebody with an engineering pedigree and access to markets wanted to get involved. As local businessmen the Easdales have a strong interest in seeing a thriving Inverclyde economy."
Mr McColl, one of Scotland's richest men, who saved about 550 jobs at Weir Pumps in Glasgow in 2007 by buying that business from Weir Group, appears likely to be a frontrunner to buy the Port Glasgow shipyard.
However, he emphasised his belief yesterday that it was not a done deal. He said: "Clearly if it had just been quite straightforward I think we would have found out today. The administrator has got some interesting offers when he has to take the time to go through them."
It is understood that administrators expect to take the process forward over the weekend, and then gather their thoughts on Monday. It is believed an announcement of the preferred bidder could come on Monday.
Blair Nimmo and Tony Friar of KPMG, who were appointed as joint administrators of Ferguson Shipbuilders Limited, Newark Joiners Limited and Ferguson-Ailsa Limited on August 14, said: "The joint administrators will now assess and clarify the terms of each bid with a view to hopefully selecting a preferred bidder in the early part of next week. All efforts are being made to conclude a sale of the group and its assets as quickly as possible."
First Minister Alex Salmond, who visited the yard yesterday, said: "I have great hopes that the work undertaken in this century-old yard will continue under new ownership and securing this remains an absolute and immediate priority."
Union leaders claim the prospects for the stricken yards are "abundantly brighter" after Mr McColl's bid. Jim Moohan, regional organiser for the GMB union, said: "Jim McColl is a very successful businessman and I'd be confident he could stabilise the yard and develop a strategy and then move the yard forward. I don't know who'll take over, four bids are in, but whoever does will need the assistance of the Scottish Government and all political parties because the yard needs an order book. [Ferry operator] CalMac needs to be brought back into the picture. But the prospects are abundantly brighter than they were this time last week."