TROUBLED engineering firm BiFab is closing in on an investment deal that could secure its future but is facing a race against time to get it away before having to lay off the 750 agency staff currently on its books.

The firm, which manufactures large-scale components for the oil and gas, renewables and infrastructure industries, will run out of work at the end of March, when its contract on the Beatrice Offshore Windfarm comes to an end.

It has already reduced its staff headcount from 1,400 to 1,000 in anticipation of this. While the firm plans to keep on all 220 of its directly employed staff, unless new work can be secured the agency personnel brought on board to work on Beatrice will be laid off when their fixed-term contracts end.

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According to a spokesman for BiFab, attracting additional funding is essential if the firm is to stand a chance of winning any new work.

“We need to get additional investment into the company because of the size of these future renewables contracts,” the spokesman said.

“Our financial standing always goes against us in securing larger contracts – we only get smaller bits.

“If we had the financial standing then our success in these future projects would be far greater and we could go from 1,000 staff to 2,500.”

Among the potential investors interested in BiFab is Canadian manufacturing business Barnes Group. It is understood that a Chinese firm has also made a bid.

However, it is not clear how close a deal is to completing, with concerns being raised that investors could hold out until the work on Beatrice is finished in order to get a better price.

Alan Ritchie of the GMB union, which represents hundreds of BiFab workers, said: “They might sit back and wait for the company to go into liquidation then pick it up.

“We welcome investors but we’ve got to be very wary of what’s happening here.”

At the moment the expectation is that BiFab’s total workforce will have reduced to around 700 by the time the Beatrice work completes. Over 400 on contracts directly linked to Beatrice will be laid off then.

READ MORE: Lawsuit threat to BiFab's survival after £15m loan

The BiFab spokesman said that if the company knew it had more contracts in the pipeline it would be able to keep most of those people on, even if there was a time lag between one contract ending and another starting.

“If there were two months when we didn’t have any work we would keep them because it would be difficult and costly to bring them back,” he said.

Currently BiFab is majority owned by Swedish manufacturing business JCE Group with the remainder of the company’s shares held by energy company SSE and BiFab’s management team.

At this stage it is not known if the business will be bought in its entirety or if an investor will pay to take a share of the company.

“Different companies are looking at different investment interests – some are looking at the whole thing, some are looking at making an investment,” the spokesman said.

It is understood that the Scottish Government is playing an active role in negotiations with prospective investors, in part to help safeguard a £15 million loan it made available to BiFab at the end of last year.

The loan, which so far has not been drawn down, was made as part of a rescue package brokered by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon after the company filed to go into administration.

READ MORE: Lawsuit threat to BiFab's survival after £15m loan

Having flown back from a UN climate change conference in Germany, Ms Sturgeon was active in discussions that saw Seaway Heavy Lifting – the main contractor on Beatrice – as well as JCE and SSE provide funding to enable BiFab to continue as a going concern.

A spokeswoman for the Government said it was currently “working with the management team at BiFab to secure new business and investment in the company”.