UK shipyards: Plans for ‘renaissance’ to be unveiled

  • 6 September 2017
  • From the section UK

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John Linton/BAE Systems/PA

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HMS Queen Elizabeth was built in blocks across six cities before being assembled in Rosyth in Scotland

A new national ship-building strategy intended to bring about a renaissance for UK shipyards is to be unveiled by Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon.

Under the plans, the government will buy at least five frigates, and share the construction between shipyards around the UK.

The first batch of new Type 31e frigates would be built with the export market in mind, said Sir Michael.

It comes as the Ministry of Defence aims to save billions of pounds.

As the ship-building industry is revived, the MoD hopes it can serve both the Royal Navy and navies of allies and partners.

The new frigates would be build across different shipyards, but assembled at a central site, and ready for service by 2023.

Their cost would be capped at £250m each.

Analysis: Will the plan work?

By Jonathan Beale, BBC defence correspondent

The strategy has been called “ambitious” and with reason.

Will there be enough work to sustain several shipyards in the UK? Will there really be demand from abroad for British-designed warships?

And can you really build a frigate for just £250m? Defence doesn’t have a great record of keeping costs under control.

And that highlights a larger problem. The MoD’s budget is once again in crisis. It’s equipment programme has become more expensive because of a fall in the pound.

It still has to find tens of billions of pounds in “efficiency savings”. And all three services are struggling to recruit and retain key personnel.

Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon boasts of a growing defence budget. But the sums still don’t add up.

To balance the books, the MoD will need to make another round of painful defence cuts.

Sir Michael told BBC Breakfast this was a “huge opportunity” for UK shipyards which could bid for these “big contracts” next year, with building expected to start the following year.

“It’s a great day for the Royal Navy.”

The navy currently uses Type 23 frigates, which would be slowly phased out, added Sir Michael.

Asked how he would balance the books, he said: “We are increasing the defence budget – it goes up each year.”

Sir Michael said the plan would lead to more “cutting-edge ships for the growing Royal Navy”, designed to maximise exports and be attractive to navies around the world.

“Backed up by a commitment to spend billions on new ships, our plan will help boost jobs, skills and growth in shipyards and the supply chain across the UK,” he added.

Scottish National Party defence spokesman Stewart McDonald said the plans had “nothing to do with ambition”.

“It is all about squeezing costs to the bone and cutting corners, and still leaves real uncertainties for the future for workers at Scottish shipyards and the communities that depend on them.”

GMB, the union for workers in the shipbuilding industry, has cautiously welcomed the plans, saying it would watch the government closely to see whether it “backs its warm words with deeds” to protect the UK’s shipbuilding future.

“Without a clear commitment from government, it will be foreign competitors who will benefit from vital work that should be taking place in UK yards,” GMB national officer Ross Murdoch warned.

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