Ministers have been told to act urgently to save the Scots shipyard firm it nationalised as concerns grow about its future over grave fears that it will not get a vital ferry contract to build a fleet of seven lifeline ferries.

The Scottish Government has confirmed that no decision has yet been made to invest in the new wave of 'loch class' vessels which is already delayed.

And GMB Scotland, the biggest union at nationalised Ferguson Marine, fear that when a decision is made by ministers,  it will announce the contract must go to a competitive tender  - ruling out a direct award to the yard to safeguard hundreds of jobs.

There are concerns that the Scottish Government are treating the loss-making yard very differently to its sister state-owned ferry operator CalMac as  it has already decided that the preferred option for the next contract over the future of lifeline island ferry services was a direct award - closing the door on bringing in private operators.

And the Scottish Government has already ruled out, for the time being, ploughing a further £25m requested for the modernisation of their shipyard firm as part of a new business plan to secure a sustainable future beyond just the delivery of the two much-delayed and over-budget lifeline ferries vital for its hopes of getting the contract for the Small Vessel Replacement Programme.

The union, responding to speculation that ministers are in preliminary talks with prospective buyers of Ferguson Marine, has also said the yard should remain in public ownership with secure work until taxpayers secure a return on the millions already spent there.

The Scottish Government has been accused of 'sleepwalking' the nationalised firm at the centre of Scotland's shipbuilding scandal into oblivion by failing to support its bid for the ferry work.

Two lifeline ferries Glen Sannox and Glen Rosa, both being built at Ferguson's were due online in the first half of 2018, with one intitially to serve Arran and the other to serve the Skye triangle routes to North Uist and Harris, but are at least six years late, with costs expected to be quadruple the original £97m contract. It has been confirmed that both are now to serve Arran.

Glen Rosa was meant to be delivered to CalMac in August 2018, but that is currently scheduled for May 2025. Glen Sannox, was launched by Nicola Sturgeon nearly seven years ago and is due for delivery in the spring.

But the dates of arrival have been constantly in a state of flux as their construction has been plagued by design challenges, cost overruns and delays.

READ MORE: Secret Scotland: Ministers stand firm in blocking release of ferry fiasco costs

Gary Cook, GMB Scotland senior organiser in engineering, said workers there are blameless for the soaring costs and missed deadlines of the Glen Sannox and Glen Rosa ferries and deserve to know their jobs are secure and their yard has a future.

He said: “This yard is owned by taxpayers and the absolute priority for the Scottish Government could not be clearer or more urgent.

“Taxpayers must get a return on the money already invested at Ferguson's.   It makes absolutely no sense to make the investment demanded by the current contract and endure the difficulties then allow new private owners to profit.

The Herald:

“The workforce is in no way responsible for the mistakes that have been made but those errors have cost taxpayers far too much money and our members want to help settle the books and restore the reputation of their yard that has become a political football.

“The future of the yard must be secured as quickly as possible and that means ministers committing to building the small ferries in Port Glasgow.”

GMB say they are concerned that the Scottish Government while considering a direct award of the contract Ferguons's have been advised it should go out to tender.

Yard bosses have admitted that the lack of Scottish Government commitment so far to investment to upgrade shipyard facilities as part of a five-year business plan puts at risk its hopes of extra work from BAE Systems which is delivering City Class Type 26 frigates on the Clyde and its hopes for the work in delivering seven new 'loch class' ferries vessels serving the Clyde & Hebrides Ferry Services (CHFS).

In February, 2021, state-owned ferry owners and buyers, Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited said that the procurement for the seven replacement vessels was "on course" to begin within the next 12 months. In August, CMAL was finally expecting the first questionnaire stage of the procurement process to begin in November. It has yet to start.

Public events surrounding the procurement of the new ferries were told that the first vessel is provisionally expected to be delivered between July and August of 2026 with the last due in the last three months of 2028.

READ MORE: Row as CalMac keeps ferries away from Ardrossan after safety worry

A Scottish Government infrastructure investment plan update in September, 2021 stated that all seven vessels would serve island communities "within the next five years".

Finance secretary Shona Robison has previously advised that the small lifeline ferries replacement plan had been "reprofiled" as had harbour improvements at Ardrossan and Gourock.

It means that an initial £41m spending plan on the ferries has been put back.

Ferguson Marine was taken over by the Scottish Government five years ago after its financial collapse under the control of tycoon businessman Mr McColl as a row erupted over long delays and mounting costs over the delivery of the vessels.

The key union is urging Neil Gray's replacement as wellbeing economy secretary Màiri McAllan to act swiftly to end uncertainty around the contract and the yard’s future.

In 2016 Nicola Sturgeon featured in this 'Standing up for Scotland' video for the SNP at Ferguson Marine.  "We never shy away from an opportunity to stand up for Scotland – it’s what we do." she said in a visit to the yard.

It has also said ministers must also look at all other possible avenues, including funding through agency bodies to secure investment for the yard.

Mr Cook added: “Apart from the islanders who have waited far too long, no one wants these two ferries finished more than our members.

“The mistakes that have been made were not made by this skilled and committed workforce and their jobs and the future of this yard should not be jeopardised by errors made years ago.

“The yard needs the small ferries and from there it can begin to create a pipeline of secure work and secure this yard’s future and the Clyde’s shipbuilding heritage for generations to come.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said “We are considering future vessel contracts from public agencies on a case-by-case basis and whether any might be legally open to direct award - which is legal in strictly limited circumstances under public procurement rules.

“Ministers are currently considering the outline business case for the Small Vessel Replacement Programme. An update will be provided in due course, once a decision on investment has been taken.

“The Scottish Government is committed to securing a sustainable future for the shipyard, and has been clear since the outset of the intention to return Ferguson Marine to private ownership when the time is right. Any decisions around future ownership would be based upon circumstances at the time and would need to work for the shipyard’s employees and the taxpayer.”