POTENTIAL buyers have been set a deadline of 5pm today to lodge bids for cash- stricken Ferguson Shipbuilders.

A number of interested parties have held talks with insolvency experts who were appointed by the owners seven days ago when the Port Glasgow business was placed in voluntary administration.

Brothers James and Sandy Easdale, who own the Greenock-based McGill's Buses and are major share-holders of Rangers Football Club, are expected to lodge a bid.

Ownership of the land could well be central to any sale, with speculation that it does not belong to the debt-ridden business but is owned by the Dunnet family which ran Ferguson's.

Sources say family members are not available until next week to meet any prospective buyer to discuss a land sale.

Meanwhile a spokes-man for the Easdales said last night: "We note the exceptionally tight deadline. We have our valuation team in the yard and will hopefully be in a position to make a conditional offer."

Finance Secretary John Swinney and union leaders have warned that a quick sale is needed to protect the future of shipbuilding for the Inverclyde community and to ensure the 70 skilled workers, sacked the day after admin-istration, remain available to be rehired.

Blair Nimmo, joint administrator and head of restructuring for KPMG in Scotland said there had been "significant interest" in the shipbuilder and he has held initial discussion with several parties.

Mr Nimmo said: "We have been encouraged by the level of initial interest in, and support shown for, Ferguson Shipbuilders and we sense there is a desire to see its heritage maintained.

"By setting an early closing date we hope to establish whether it is possible to facilitate an early sale which may lead to the resumption of ship-building and ship repair activity at Port Glasgow in the short term."

Since it went into administration tens of thousands of pounds of scrap metal is said to have been removed from the yard.

KPMG could not comment on the land issue but the firm did say that a "limited amount of scrap" had been removed for health and safety as well as security reasons.

gordon.thomson@ eveningtimes.co.uk