SNP challenge Executive over action on Ferguson's

27 July 2005
Commission says "no formal discussions"

Scottish National Party MEP Alyn Smith has today called on the Scottish Executive to reveal precisely what discussions it has had in Europe over Ferguson Shipbuilders and their allegations of unfair competition across Europe.

Mr Smith has received a parliamentary answer from the European Commission stating that there have been "no formal discussions" on shipbuilding in Scotland or on the use of state aid for shipbuilding in other European countries with either the Scottish Executive or UK government since mid 2003.

Management of the Ferguson yard allege they may have to close due to Polish yards undercutting them with illegal subsidies. The Polish yard is now under investigation after Fergusons management lodged their complaint directly with the European Commission Alyn Smith said

"If this answer is correct it is absolutely shameful. Fergusons have repeatedly made these allegations and the Executive claim to have taken them seriously, but this is now called into question.

"The Executive needs to be clear on precisely what action they have taken so we can have an open and honest discussion on the future of the yard, and find some real solutions.

"Ministers have told MSPs, the workers at Fergusons and the people of Port Glasgow that they have investigated Ferguson's complaints against other European yards thoroughly. But how can this be the case if they have not even spoken to the people in Europe that do the investigating.

"In the interests of finding a solution to the problems facing Fergusons I've already written to Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Ross Finnie to detail the outcome of my meetings with the Commission on this subject.

"It now seems time for the Scottish Executive to be open not just with me, but with all of those with a stake in the future of Fergusons, and tell us what action they have taken. I sincerely hope that this answer is wrong, and look forward to a full response from Mr Finnie and his colleagues."

Bruce McFee MSP, SNP MSP for the West of Scotland who has spearheaded the local campaign to save the yard added:

"The truth is out there somewhere. On one hand we are continually being told by senior Executive Ministers that they are doing everything they can to save the yard. That they have discussions, on a regular basis, with Europe regarding shipbuilding. "Now, Europe are telling us that they have had no formal discussions at all with either the Scottish Executive or Westminster for 2 years.

"I know who I would tend to believe.

"The sooner Jack McConnell and Ross Finnie stop playing petty games with the lives and livliehoods of the workers at Fergusons's the better.

"The reasons to give the work to Ferguson's are clear. Ferguson's have the experience and the craftsmanship to undertake the work. In the long run it will be cheaper to give the work to Port Glasgow and not Poland. Finally, there are European rules which allow Jack McConnell and Ross Finnie to award the work to Ferguson's.

"McConnell and Finnie must act now before the yard bleeds to death. I urge them to award the order to Ferguson's of Port Glasgow now."

Note to Editors

Alyn Smith MEP and Bruce McFee MSP will be at Ferguson Shipbuilders at 10am.

Full Parliamentary Question and quotes from Scottish Executive on Fergusons allegations are detailed below.

WRITTEN QUESTION E-1847/05 by Alyn Smith (Verts/ALE) to the Commission
Subject: State aid for shipbuilding

Can the Commission indicate what discussions it has held with the United Kingdom Government and the Scottish Executive regarding the use of State aid for shipbuilding in Scotland and in other European countries and the outcome of such discussions?

E-1847/05EN Answer given by Mrs Kroes on behalf of the Commission (7.7.2005)

During the first half of 2003, the Commission organised multilateral meetings with the Member States on the preparation of the EU "Framework on State Aid to Shipbuilding"1. During these meetings, the Member States had the opportunity to express their views on the project, taking into account all issues of their interest. Whenever possible, comments and suggestions from the Member States were taken into account. Since then, no formal consultations have taken place with either the United Kingdom Government or the Scottish Executive on shipbuilding issues related to Scotland.

From the Scottish Parliament Official Report

First Ministers Questions - 15th June 2005

First Minister Jack McConnell: In particular, we are looking at the evidence that has been presented to us-and not just recently-on the actions of the Polish Government and Polish yards and the evidence that we took to the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department for Transport last October in relation to similar claims.

First Minister Jack McConnell: The best way to deal with any allegation of law breaking elsewhere in the European Union in relation to contracts is to have it investigated properly. That is what we called for-not in April, in the middle of an election campaign, but last October, when we first approached the European Union and, of course, the British Government about the issue.

Jim Wallace, 19 May - Question Time
We are aware that allegations have been made that there is no level playing field and that unfair advantages have been given against EU rules. I assure the chamber that ministers have pursued all those allegations rigorously and will continue to do so.

Written Answer (S2W-1643 Jim Mather), 26th May
Jim Wallace

"Scottish ministers do have regular meetings with their counterparts in the European Commission to discuss a range of issues including state aids."