Scots billionaire in scathing attack on Ferguson Marine turnaround boss

Businessman Jim McColl took aim at Tim Hair, who was appointed in 2019.

CalMac ferries: Jim McColl slams man charged with turning around troubled Ferguson Marine shipyard Tim Hair STV News
Tim Hair departed as turnaround director of the yard in February this year.

Billionaire businessman Jim McColl has slammed the man charged with turning around the fortunes of the troubled Ferguson Marine shipyard he used to own.

He claimed “nobody knew what was going on” at the yard after the dismissal of individuals who were “intimately involved” with every part of the construction of two new vessels.

He admits that he wishes the contract for two lifeline ferries had never been awarded to the firm, suggesting that had it not been Ferguson Marine would be “flying high”.

At the Scottish Parliament, McColl launched a scathing criticism of Tim Hair, who was appointed as turnaround director at the yard after it was taken over by the Scottish Government in 2019.

“There was a black hole there and for six months, nobody knew what was going on in that yard.”

Jim McColl, former owner of Ferguson Marine

He was initially hired for a period of between two to three months, but ultimately departed in February this year.

However, the ferries being built at the yard remain incomplete, whilst costs have spiralled.

Initially, both ferries were due to cost just £97m. The overrun has risen to between £122.5m and £126.5m.

Hair earned almost £1.3m for 454 days’ work after being appointed to lead Ferguson Marine by the Scottish Government.

With a daily rate of £2,565, Hair was at the time one of the UK’s highest-paid public officials.

MSPs on Holyrood's Public Audit Committee questioned McColl. (Scottish Parliament TV)Scottish Parliament TV
MSPs on Holyrood’s Public Audit Committee questioned McColl. (Scottish Parliament TV)

He defended his pay, having claimed that it was “value for money”.

McColl appeared before the Scottish Parliament’s Audit Committee on Thursday.

He told MSPs that most of the senior management team and key managers at the yard were “immediately dismissed” following the appointment of Hair.

According to McColl, they were told to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) meaning that they are unable to speak out.

“I’ve not got more people with me today because they are gagged and they can’t get freedom from that, so they can’t speak.”

Jim McColl

“On the day that it (the yard) went into administration, Tim Hair was managing it on behalf of the Government,” he said.

“He immediately dismissed most of the senior management team and many of the key managers below that level left, they were wiped out, they had to sign NDAs.

“Which is why I’ve not got more people with me today because they are gagged and they can’t get freedom from that, so they can’t speak.

“But, they were wiped out and those were the people who were intimately involved with every part of the ship construction.

“We also had a very effective management system in there, and we have evidence of Lloyds, CMAL, CalMac, BAE Systems, giving us marks that are excellent for the systems we have, we’ve got evidence of it.”

Richard Leonard is the convener of the Public Audit Committee. (Scottish Parliament TV) Scottish Parliament TV
Richard Leonard is the convener of the Public Audit Committee. (Scottish Parliament TV)

McColl told the Committee that there was no planning meeting held for six months after Hair was appointed.

He continued: “What Tim Hair did was he wiped out all the systems we had because there was no big enterprise planning system, integrated enterprise planning.

“Each individual there had their element of the system that they ran, there were meetings twice a day in what we called a war room where everyone was together and they updated every aspect of the progress on that ship on a day-by-day basis.

“That was wiped out, all of those systems. I’m told there was no planning meeting held for six months after Tim Hair went in.

“He also sacked the design consultants that we had engaged, called Vera Navis, who were working on all the design work and the backgrounds supporting our design team.

“So, what was wiped out was all the people that knew what was going on, all the systems that controlled it and the design people that were behind it.

“There was a black hole there and for six months, nobody knew what was going on in that yard.”

McColl insisted that there was an 'exciting future' at the yard. (STV News) STV News
McColl insisted that there was an ‘exciting future’ at the yard. (STV News)

McColl said that it is “absolutely nonsense” to suggest that anything negative would have happened to the yard had the contract for the ferries not been awarded.

“There was plenty going on in the yard and at that time, there was probably about 130 people employed. So, it was an exciting future,” he said,” he told MSPs.

“We have an investment paper that was prepared and approved to put a further £8.7m into the yard, that was approved one month before we knew we were the approved bidder.

“So, would we go ahead with investing £8.7m in it if it was totally reliant on that order? We wouldn’t, we would have waited to see if we got it.

“So that’s just absolute nonsense that anything negative would have happened to this yard if it didn’t get the order.

“I wish we hadn’t got it because we’d be flying high just now with a whole load of different orders.”

McColl also claimed that there are former workers at the yard that have “suffered depression” as a result of the statements made about the quality of their work.

He told MSPs: “It’s fair to say that most of the senior management – finance, operations, naval architecture, purchasing supply chain, safety.

“And, there are a few of them that have suffered depression from what has happened to them.

“Because they have been sullied and their reputation has been sullied by some of the false statements that have been made about the quality of work prior to the Government taking over.

“Which is false, it’s absolutely false. These were really good people that we recruited.

“We had a fabulous workforce there, there is a very strong workforce there that are high quality, skilled people.

“They didn’t, when they were working for us, do bad welds or bad quality work, and then all of a sudden be told how to do good welds and good quality work by people who come in.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The actions that the Scottish Government has taken have helped to secure jobs at the last remaining commercial shipbuilder on the Clyde and we are committed to completing the vessels as soon as possible.

“Significant change is not uncommon in a business turnaround process. Some senior members of staff left under the terms of settlement agreements and it would not be appropriate to comment on particular agreements. It is not unusual for settlements agreements to include standard confidentiality clauses.

“The Scottish Government has, and will, do everything within the scope of our power to ensure that anyone who wishes to do so has the opportunity to engage in parliamentary and Audit Scotland scrutiny processes. If any former employee feels that they are constrained from participating in this way, they should make us aware. In terms of Audit Scotland’s review and the Public Audit Committee’s scrutiny of that, no former employee has done so.”