WORKERS sacked when Ferguson Shipbuilders went bust could be offered their jobs back if a successful buyout is completed soon, it was claimed.

Work has to be completed on a fishing vessel which could sustain jobs for up to eight weeks while union chiefs believe a new owner for the Port Glasgow yard will have little choice but to rehire.

Renewed optimism was voiced on the day Scotland's Finance Secretary John Swinney chaired a task force which was set up to try to find a lifeline for the cash- stricken yard.

It is made up of politicians, union officials and repres-entatives of insolvency specialists KPMG, which was brought in by the owners last Thursday when the business was placed into voluntary administration.

The following day 70 workers were sacked without any wages or redundancy money.

Just seven apprentices were retained by the joint administrators who have yet to disclose the extent of the debts, which are believed to be significant and made worse by recent cash-flow problems.

But as the task force got down to business, the Easdale brothers announced their interest in buying the shipyard which was established in 1902.

Sandy and James Easdale are well known Greenock-based businessmen, with business interests including McGill's Buses. Both have shares in Rangers Football Club.

Sandy Easdale said: "We have contacted the administrators, KPMG, through our accountants.

"This is a highly skilled workforce and it is a vital business for our area.

"With Government assist-ance, both in Edinburgh and London, I am sure we can secure orders."

He told the Evening Times that his first priority was to secure a viable future for the yard.

He said: "It is too early to make job commitments at this stage. We have assembled a team to look at all the issues."

Bad management has been blamed for the crisis facing Ferguson's and Mr Easdale remains confident he and his brother can forge a lucrative future for the shipbuilder if they acquire it.

Mr Easdale said: "We have turned round other comp-anies such as Blairs Windows and McGill's Buses which now has 1000 employees."

The task force was told the yard had been carrying out work on a fishing boat when it went into administration.

There is up to eight weeks' work still to be done and it's understood the contractor will decide in three weeks' time when that work should be completed at Ferguson's or elsewhere.

Union chiefs say every effort must be made to protect the contract and to find a buyer.

One source said: "Our biggest problem is time. We need to secure a buyer or we could end up losing that workforce.

"Anyone buying that shipyard will need their experience and skill."

Afterwards a joint state-ment was issued on behalf of Mr Swinney and Inverclyde Council leader Stephen McCabe.

It said: "We will do everything in our power to secure a future for Fergusons and its employees.

"Our priority is to attract a new investor who will take the shipyard forward as a going concern.

"There are still orders to be completed and we will work with the administrator to try to secure this outcome.

"The Scottish Government, its agencies and Inverclyde Council are working to secure the welfare of people employed at Ferguson's shipyard.

"The Scottish Government has well-established arrangements to help people in these circumstances and we will do everything we can to ensure people get access to the support that they need at what is an extremely difficult time."