WHO would put more than £50 million into a high-risk enterprise and be unable to produce the business plan on which that investment was made? A philanthropist with more money than sense? Or simply the Scottish Government.

The business in question was BiFab, now in administration. The dismal story of how public money was squandered with hundreds of jobs lost is revealed in a diligent report produced by Holyrood’s Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee. For anyone interested in what passes for “Scottish industrial policy”, it is worth a read.

Most of the focus has been on the Fife yards, at Burntisland and Methil, which now await the administrator’s verdict on their fate. One does not get the impression of a long queue forming. From where I sit, there is deep concern about the future of the Arnish yard on Lewis, an orphan in the storm, which became part of BiFab in 2009 and has never recovered.

Phrases like “almost unbelievable ineptitude” seem inadequate when reviewing the Scottish Government’s handling of the BiFab saga because the conventionally unbelievable has become the currently commonplace. Even then, the point about the missing business plan does seem startling.

As the report notes drily: “Despite repeated requests and the financial loss to the public purse, neither party” – i.e. the Scottish Government and the Canadian company lured into taking over BiFab in 2018 – “shared the pre-acquisition business plan with the committee”.

Did it even exist?

In the bitterly contested end-game, this failure to agree on what they had agreed in 2018 finally brought the curtain down on BiFab. The Canadians, DF Barnes, thought they had assurances about the Scottish Government underwriting the ability to accept an order. SNP Ministers claimed they couldn’t because – irony of ironies – of EU rules.

A QC hired by the trade unions, Lord Davidson, essentially said that this was nonsense and that “a willingness to provide a guarantee would not offend against the EU State Aid regime…Therefore one is left with the perception that the Scottish Government has acted unnecessarily precipitately ...It appears to be an excess of caution”.

The further irony is that BiFab went bust not because they failed to win an order but because, finally, EDF – the French state-owned company developing an offshore windfarm in the Firth of Forth – wanted to award them one. Not unreasonably, given BiFab’s history, they also wanted a guarantee that the work would be delivered.

It was at this point that the two diametrically opposed versions of what had been agreed in 2018 came to light. That was endgame for the Canadians who had long since reached the conclusion that they were brought to Scotland on the basis of false promises which the Scottish Government was incapable of delivering.

From my own conversations, I know how shocked the Canadians were by how they felt they had been treated. Having arrived full of good intentions – for Arnish as well as Fife – they discovered, step by step, the quagmire they had landed in once the photo opportunity for Ministers with cheering workers and hard-hats had passed.

BiFab has become shorthand for the epic failure to turn Scotland’s renewable energy capacity into jobs, particularly since the long-signalled boom in offshore wind developments began to materialise. That is gone and in the past it must remain – but are there any more encouraging prospects for the future?

The bidding has now opened for the Crown Estate’s ScotWind round of licences to develop even bigger offshore windfarms around our coast with a value of around £8 billion. Failure to take advantage of this will be like missing out on the industrial revolution because everyone in the office was too busy.

Yet nothing is guaranteed. The Crown Estate have required bidders to lodge Supply Chain Development Statements, with promises of local content, but then adds that these will “not be used in the assessment or scoring of applications”. So that does not take us a great deal further.

Scotland’s failure to win renewables work on a serious scale is usually attributed to the reluctance of developers to award contracts here because there is always someone cheaper in China or Indonesia. That, however, is only part of the story. Most of the work could not be done here even if the will existed. The BiFab yards were chasing crumbs rather than loaves.

If things are to change, there has to be a huge co-ordinated effort to ensure that the infrastructure exists and state of the art yards are able to compete. This is what the past decade should have been devoted to putting in place. Without it a “post-covid recovery based on green jobs” will continue to be a largely meaningless slogan rather than a credible strategy.

Some of our best companies are investing to ensure they are in a position to take advantage of the ScotWind round and the Crown Estate last year commissioned a report on port infrastructure to identify both existing capacity and future requirements. That’s a start but there needs to be some sign of ambition, investment and co-ordination from government.

From a Hebridean perspective, it is a given that there will be huge wind developments off our coast. But the question of whether this will bring work to Arnish and prosperity for the island is still wide open. The same applies to depressed coastal communities around Scotland. This time, we need a business plan – and soon.

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