£4bn aircraft carrier project 'will go ahead'
THERE is no threat to the massive aircraft carrier project which is vital to the survival of Scottish ship yards, senior Royal Navy officers and defence contractors have insisted.
Commodore Mike Mansergh, one of the most important and influential officers in the Royal Navy, and Alan Johnston, the chief executive of BVT Surface Fleet, one of the main contractors, told The Scotsman they were convinced that the 4 billion aircraft carrier project would go ahead.
They were reacting to reports earlier this week that the Ministry of Defence is reviewing the order and that construction might be delayed or cancelled.
The contract for the carriers has been signed, design work has already begun and construction of the first ship is due to start on the Clyde early next year.
The carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, will be the biggest warships to be built in the UK. They are due to enter service in 2014 and 2016.
Sections are being built in Glasgow and Portsmouth with other work done at Barrow-in-Furness. The ships are then due to be put together in Rosyth, creating or underpinning a total of 10,000 jobs throughout the UK.
Confusion over the future of the commission came earlier this week when, in response to the proposed squeeze on government finances in the face of the gloomy economic climate, a spokesman for the MoD said: "The MoD is looking at all its major equipment programmes over the next ten years, with a view to bearing down on costs and making sure front-line troops are properly supported."
But Commodore Mansergh, who commands the 43-strong Portsmouth flotilla, said: "I am an optimist … I am sure we will have the aircraft carriers in the future.
"The contract has been signed and we are focused on welcoming the first aircraft carrier when it comes into service."
The BVT conglomerate, an amalgamation of defence contractors VT Group and BAE Systems, employs 4,000 people on the Clyde, jobs which would be under threat if the carrier order was axed.
The company has enough work in its order book to cope with some slippage in the timescale for the carrier order but anything more than a year or two of delay and there would be a strain on the company.
BVT's Mr Johnston accepted there might be some delay to the project, but he said he did not think there was any threat to the project itself.
He said: "I do not have any concerns over the aircraft carrier contract per se. We know the MoD is going through an equipment review at the moment but I personally don't see any threat to the carriers. In any major military programme, timetables can be varied to suit organisational or financial requirements, but I do not see any significant threat to the carriers."
Mr Johnston said it would be nave of him to ignore the financial constraints which the UK government is now working under and he said the biggest concern for him was the future of the small and medium-sized businesses which supported the big government contracts.
He said there appeared to be a greater danger of some of these businesses going under than of the UK government pulling the aircraft carrier order.
And he added: "In terms of forward order book, we are quite secure."
BVT Surface Fleet on the Clyde is currently working on the new Type 45 destroyers, the first of which, HMS Daring, is about to enter service with the Royal Navy. That programme will take until 2013 to complete.
The carrier orders were designed to dovetail with the Type 45 work and to keep the workforce busy until 2015 or 2016.
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