Sir Michael Fallon claimed shipbuilding jobs on the Clyde have been safeguarded for two decades when he announced work on the Royal Navy’s new frigate fleet will begin in the summer.
The Defence Secretary attempted to end the uncertainty surrounding the future of the shipyards when he said “hundreds” of jobs would be secured with the construction of eight Type 26 ships. Steel will be cut for the first of the eight Type 26 global combat ships next summer, with the project expected to last until 2035.
The announcement follows much political controversy over the Scotland’s shipbuilding industry.
Before the 2014 referendum, the No campaign argued that rejecting independence was the way to guarantee work for the Clyde shipyards through defence contracts. Since then, the project has been hit by delays, which have led to the SNP accusing the UK government of breaking its promise.
Speaking on a visit to Govan, Sir Michael said: “Backed by Britain’s rising defence budget, the Type 26 programme will deliver a new generation of cutting-edge warships for our Royal Navy at best value for taxpayers.
“The UK government’s commitment today will secure hundreds of high-skilled shipbuilding jobs on the Clyde for at least two decades and hundreds more in the supply chain across Britain.
“There are billions of pounds of work here for the Clyde. This government is firmly committed to shipbuilding on the Clyde and the programme that will take us through to 2035. I would hope that would be one thing that the First Minister could actually welcome.”
He added: “We’re investing in Scotland on the basis that Scotland will be staying in the United Kingdom.”
Work on the frigates was originally due to start this year. Unions raised concerns in April that up to 800 jobs could be lost at the Clyde shipyards if there was any further delays. The yards employ more than 2,500 people, though hundreds of jobs have been lost over the past two years as BAE Systems has reduced shipbuilding capacity.
Ministers’ plans to build the eight anti-submarine Type 26 global combat ships were set out in the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR15). The project has been scaled back from earlier plans to build 13 new ships.
Steel-cutting will begin in the summer of 2017 subject to final contract negotiations, the MoD said.
The First Minister gave a cautious welcome to the news, but complained that it was not the same deal as was set out before the referendum.
“The promise hasn’t been kept in full, so the number has reduced and there has been a real delay in getting this work started,” she said.
Ms Sturgeon described the delay as “regrettable” and “disappointing” and said it had been a source of anxiety for the workforce at both yards.
She added: “Nevertheless, it’s a welcome announcement and I really hope now that it doesn’t slip any further and that the commitment that has been made today is delivered in full.”
Veterans Secretary Keith Brown paid tribute to the workforce on the Clyde, but also expressed concern about the future of military bases at Fort George and Kinloss, which are currently subject to a MoD review.
Mr Brown said: “I welcome the news that the MoD has now finally confirmed its order for eight Type 26 frigates, to be built on the Clyde after much delay.”