Back to the Future – Inverclyde’s Shipyards

As an elected politician I do what all good citizens do, I look at our society and wonder what can we do to improve it. My office deals with constituents every day that have problems related to housing, welfare, law and order, anti-social behaviour and a range of issues that blight our communities. We work hard and use every resource available to us to resolve as many of these cases as we can. The truth is that we can’t solve them all and people’s lives will continue to be detrimentally affected by them. I am continually reminded however that while we address each case on its own merit the root causes are often the same. Areas of high deprivation continue to show higher incidents of crime, drug abuse and alcohol abuse. People living there are less socially mobile while their educational achievements and aspirations can suffer. That isn’t a condemnation of individuals but the fact remains that people in communities that are impoverished have fewer opportunities, poorer health and die younger.

Yet we have a solution. It’s not a magic wand and it’s not simple but it works every single time and it benefits the individual and the community at large. If you look across the globe the areas of greatest deprivation are the areas with the highest unemployment. Jobs make communities, employment enriches people’s lives, people are happier, better adjusted and family homes become better places to grow up in. Children’s schooling improves as does their health. Employment can be the catalyst for change.

Unfortunately things are not going to get easier. Our society is changing and with the onset of autonomous vehicles and the gig economy, society is going to come under greater pressure. We face huge challenges within the workforce and it’s a matter that will need addressed but here and now in Inverclyde we have opportunities to bring jobs to the area. Jobs that can underpin our community and help create a more solid platform to move forward from. I know Riverside Inverclyde and local council officers are working incredibly hard to maximise our potential which is one of the reasons I get so frustrated when I hear people talking down the ability of local employers. The most recent and most high profile case is Ferguson Marine. When Jim McColl saved the yard from extinction he inherited seven employees. Less than four years later Ferguson Marine employ over three hundred and fifty people including over forty apprentices. That’s three hundred and fifty households benefiting. That’s neighbourhoods and communities that gain positivity.

The value of employment is not just financial and should never be underestimated. These four years have been difficult. While building ships Ferguson Marine have also been rebuilding their own facilities. They have invested in the yard, the buildings and the workforce. They operate in an extremely competitive market place and yet they are growing and diversifying too. The diversity is hugely important but it comes at a cost. Developing new technologies and building the first of any type of vessel, as Ferguson Marine are doing, essentially means you are building a prototype. In any industry this entails extra cost and a longer build time. The workforce may need re-skilled and the workplace re-tooled. It is simply more challenging and more costly in most aspects but the rewards in the long term can be worth it.

Negative and ill-informed publicity damages the reputation of the yard. Talking it down, keeping it small, undermines the potential of the yard, its ability to bid, to recruit and ultimately to be successful. Potential customers can be put off if a local yard is not supported by the media and politicians. People considering their next career move want to join an upbeat, vibrant, innovative environment but if that’s not the image being projected then they may move elsewhere. I am not asking for blind faith, nor am I offering pie in the sky projects with no anchor in reality, I am saying we should weigh up all the challenges and benefits and support the option that is best for our community.

Ferguson Marine is now a modern functioning shipyard, employing highly skilled and motivated people. It has pulled itself back from the abyss and has a bright future. That successful future will benefit Inverclyde in some very obvious ways and also in many intangible aspects of our community. How do we measure confidence, stability and aspiration? We as a community should be rallying to support Ferguson Marine and give it every chance to expand and grow. They have shown their commitment to Inverclyde, the Scottish Government have shown their commitment to Ferguson Marine, now it’s time that Inverclyde reciprocated.