Ferguson Marine executives have said that placing the nationalised ferry fiasco back into private hands remains on the table and it could happen in 18 months.

But they say that the timing is dependent on whether the Scottish Government makes a commitment to the  future and could be provided without committed investment from the Scottish Government to £25m in capital investment to modernise the yard - seen as vital for its future.

It comes as new concerns surfaced over the future of the shipyard firm as MSPs say they were told there was no sight of future work.

It is thought the award of the contract for a new wave of seven small ferries would secure its immediate future.

But in November, then wellbeing economy secretary Neil Gray said that it had so far been unable to agree to put new investment into the shipyard firm to support a business plan that takes it beyond just the delivery of the much-delayed lifeline ferries.

Now Ferguson Marine chairman Andrew Miller has said that there is an intention to place the yard which employs more than 300 people back into private hands with the timing dependent on whether there will be any investment forthcoming from the Scottish Government.

The Herald: Andrew Miller, chairman of Ferguson Marine (inset)

He has told the Scottish Parliament’s net zero, energy and transport committee: "It is still the aim to return the business to private ownership clearly with a better than break even situation with a long term future. It depends on the market and where we are."

He said the capital support affects that move in the short terms as "we try and move towards better levels of efficiency"

He added: "It depends on the Capex. The market is strong. It is as strong as it's been for 50 years. There's plenty of work out there. It's [all about] our ability to grab that work and produce efficiently and that will take some time."

He said the move to privatisation was "probably no less than 18 months [away] but probably nearer five years".

The board of the loss-making yard admitted in November that a lack of financial support from ministers had cast a "significant doubt" on the firm's ability to continue operations.

Ferguson Marine (Port Glasgow) made a net loss of £1.3m in 2022/23 and have been concerned about the risks to the business while pointing to a failure to get a committed investment of £25m to support future work at the Inverclyde after the delivery of two long-delayed and over-budget ferries.

Plans to begin procurement of a new wave of initially seven vital lifeline ferries for Scotland's islanders has already been delayed by nearly two years.

But there are concerns that without a direct award, the yard would fail in a competitive tender for the work, that is seen as crucial for its future.

Ferguson Marine had failed to get onto the shortlist of potential contractors after failing at the first Pre Qualification Questionnaire hurdle for the £105m contract for the first of two two-ferry contracts that were given to the Cemre Marin Endustri shipyard in Turkey.

And it subsequently failed to even bid for the work on building the £115m second batch before it was again awarded to the same Turkish shipyard.

The Herald: Ferguson Marine and (inset) David Tydeman

Ferguson Marine conducted a detailed analysis of bidding for the contract but concluded that, based on the associated documents published, the probability of winning the contract was "sufficiently low to recommend declining to bid".

Papers associated with the decision showed that it was believed that the qualification conditions in the tender documents contained criteria Ferguson Marine could not meet.

Key factors included that the two vessels in the series had already been awarded to Cemre Marin Endustri.

Two new ferries Glen Sannox and Glen Rosa being built at the nationalised Ferguson Marine shipyard were due online in the first half of 2018, with one initially 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 Sannox, was launched by Nicola Sturgeon nearly seven years ago and is not expected to be ready till July at the earliest.

Glen Rosa was meant to be delivered to CalMac in August 2018, but that is currently scheduled for May 2025.

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.

In the midst of the delays and soaring costs, Ferguson Marine under the control of tycoon Jim McColl fell into administration and was nationalised at the end of 2019 with CMAL and the yard's management blaming each other.

GMB Scotland, the main union in the yard, has said that decisions over the potential to direct award need to be taken soon as workers are already being seconded to other yards, which risks it losing the necessary skills and experience.