THE Scottish Government has announced it is “ready and willing” to nationalise the last commercial shipyard on the Clyde to save it from collapse.

Finance Secretary Derek Mackay confirmed the taxpayer was poised to intervene at Ferguson Marine Engineering Ltd at Port Glasgow.

The yard’s owners last week took the first steps towards administration, putting 350 jobs at risk, and no commercial bidder has yet come forward.

READ MORE: Ferguson Marine shipyard warns it is on brink of administration

Ferguson Marine is at the centre of an increasingly bitter row between ministers and billionaire Jim McColl, whose Clyde Blowers empire bought the yard in 2014.

Although the firm won a £97m contract for two CalMac ferries soon afterwards, the deal has been dogged by design changes, delays and cost over-runs.

The project is now two years late and around £90m over budget, with Mr McColl blaming CalMac’s state-owned parent company Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL).

Insiders say ministers want a change of management at Ferguson’s, but Mr McColl is equally determined to avoid nationalisation, and the dispute could well end in court.

READ MORE: SNP ministers 'abusing their power' over ferry contract, says Sturgeon adviser

Mr Mackay said: “The Scottish Government has been working for over two years to find a resolution to the difficulties at FMEL. Throughout that time our preference has been to identify viable commercial options to keep the yard going and to finish the vessels. No such solutions have come forward.

“The Scottish Government has now indicated to all relevant parties that we are ready and willing to take Ferguson Marine into public ownership and deliver the ferries to secure the continued employment of the workforce in the yard. 

“There remains a process to go through to secure the transfer of the yard to the Scottish Government, and we are hopeful that all parties recognise the importance of completing that transfer as quickly and as smoothly as possible.

“While we are open to engaging with any parties with a serious interest in investing in and securing a future for the shipyard, it is essential the government acts now to secure the completion of the ferries and continuity of employment at Fergusons.”

Earlier, Mr Mackay told BBC Radio Scotland the government would not “hand over a cheque” to complete the ferries because it would be "illegal" and breach EU state aid rules.

He said: "The £97m has already been spent on vessels that are not complete. Once we conduct due diligence and if we're in public ownership we'll have sight as to what is required to complete those vessels. The alternative is for the government to walk away, the company goes into administration, the jobs are lost, the vessels are not complete."

The government has already loaned Ferguson Marine £45m to get it through cash flow problems, giving it priority over other creditors in taking control of the yard, except for the issuer of a £25m bond, which Ferguson required to secure the Cal Mac ferries contract.

Mr McColl had urged the government to absorb half the cost over-run in return for an equity stake, but ministers refused on the basis it could breach state aid rules.

Mr McColl’s frustration boiled over at the weekend when he launched a scathing attack on the government in an interview with the Scottish Mail on Sunday. 

Despite sitting on the First Minister’s Council of Economic Advisers, he accused ministers of “abusing their power” and failing to understand basic economics.

He said: “We get soundbites from ministers, tweeting about finishing the ferries and saving the jobs in the yard. It’s all PR. There’s no economic sense behind what they’re doing.

“The way they are acting right now is economically damaging for the local area and for Scotland. Anybody with a Standard grade in economics would be able to work this out , it’s not rocket science…. The Government should not be abusing their power like this.”

GMB Scotland general secretary Gary Smith told BBC Scotland the yard did have a future.

Her said: "There has been a problem with two contracts but the truth is we are going to have to renew the fleet of CalMac ferries because frankly they're clapped out.

"We know there are other commercial opportunities out there and we know that Ferguson's is at the cutting edge of hydrogen technology and above all, the greatest asset at the yard that we've got is the workforce.

"It's got a huge future, this company is not a basket case by any stretch of the imagination."

Scottish LibDem Leader Willie Rennie said: "With government financially exposed with millions of pounds of public money involved in the maintenance of the Ferguson shipyard, it is only right that the government answers some difficult questions about their role.  We must protect the jobs of the workers and get these ferries built for the routes that are desperately awaiting new vessels so we need to make the right decisions now. 

“Will the existing management at Ferguson’s remain in place if the yard is nationalised?  Surely there must be questions about their role in the current problems.

“The government has issued loans worth £97m which has already been spent on the vessels, so what were those loans secured against?  Was there sufficient security and will those loans be repaid?

"How is the Scottish Government going to ensure it does a better job managing this nationalisation? Its intervention at Bifab saw the promise made to hundreds of workers broken within weeks while Prestwick has recorded loss after loss on the SNP’s watch."

Ferguson Marine and Clyde Blowers have been asked for comment.