DEREK Mackay has confirmed that the Scottish Government are “ready and willing” to take Ferguson shipyard into public ownership in a bid to “give the yard a future”.

Last week, bosses at the Port Glasgow firm announced that they were starting the process of going into administration – with around 350 jobs at risk.

They blamed the spiralling costs of a contract they’d won with publicly owned Caledonian Maritime Assets (CMAL) to build two new hybrid ferries.

In a statement, Mackay said he had written to Ferguson’s owner, Jim McColl, to encourage a quick and smooth transfer of the yard to the Government.

He said: “The Scottish Government has been working for over two years to find a resolution to the difficulties at Ferguson Marine Engineering Ltd.

“Throughout that time, our preference has been to identify viable commercial options to keep the yard going and to finish the vessels.

“No such solutions have come forward.

“The Scottish Government has now indicated to all relevant parties that we are ready and willing to take Ferguson Marine into public ownership and deliver the ferries to secure the continued employment of the workforce in the yard.”

He added: “There remains a process to go through to secure the transfer of the yard to the Scottish Government, and we are hopeful that all parties recognise the importance of completing that transfer as quickly and as smoothly as possible.

“While we are open to engaging with any parties with a serious interest in investing in and securing a future for the shipyard, it is essential the Government acts now to secure the completion of the ferries and continuity of employment at Ferguson’s.”

McColl – who sits on Nicola Sturgeon’s council of economic advisers – has been critical of the Government.

He said the public ownership proposals made “no economic sense”.

Speaking to the Mail on Sunday, the billionaire industrialist said: “The way [the Scottish Government] are acting right now is economically damaging for the local area and for Scotland.

“Anybody with a Standard Grade in economics would be able to work this out.

“The Government should not be abusing their power like this.

“It’s more frustrating that the Government have not stood up to CMAL – it’s a wholly owned Government entity. We’ve got a high probability of winning the Type 31 destroyer orders. There’s another order, worth half a billion pounds, for offshore patrol vessels for Bangladesh. They’re throwing all this away.”

He has suggested the Government absorb the additional costs of the delayed ferry contract in return for an equity stake.

The Government say this would be illegal and against EU state aid rules.

It’s understood 60 agency workers have stopped working at the site, bringing the workforce below 300 for the first time in nearly five years.

The Tories have blamed the chaos at Ferguson’s on the Government.

Transport spokesman Jamie Greene said it was “entirely the result of the SNP’s reckless mismanagement of the Ferguson marine contract”.

He added: “The way to jobs and the yard’s future is by ensuring that the current ferry contract concludes by resolving the dispute over cost over-runs.

“Nationalising Ferguson Marine, even if it is possible to do so, simply raises more questions than answers and offers no certainty to the business at all.”

Scottish Liberal Democrats leader Willie Rennie said ministers had some difficult questions to answer. We must protect the jobs of the workers and get these ferries built for the routes that are desperately awaiting new vessels so we need to make the right decisions now.

“Will the existing management at Ferguson’s remain in place if the yard is nationalised?”

Gary Smith, the Scotland organiser for the GMB Union, said nationalisation was the “right thing to do”.

He said: “The only realistic option, the only way to secure the future of the yard, and most importantly for us – our members’ jobs, is for the Scottish Government to step in and nationalise the yard.”

A CMAL spokesperson said: “We are keen that the future of the shipyard and its workforce is secured.”