Nationalist politicians and shipbuilding unions have reacted furiously after the Ministry of Defence admitted there is no start date for the new Type 26 frigate fleet to be built on the Clyde.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the admission was a “disgraceful betrayal” of shipyard workers after it was made at a meeting of the House of Commons defence select committee.
The project to build the eight new frigates on the Clyde was promised before the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. Since then the programme has been hit by delays leading to SNP claims that the UK government is reneging on its pre-referendum promise.
Asked by MPs when the Type-26 design would be approved, the MoD’s leading military equipment official Tony Douglas replied: “I can’t give you a time or a date. It could be next year.”
The same question was also put to Harriet Baldwin, a new junior defence minister. She told MPs: “We do not know yet.” Last month the former first sea lord Admiral Lord West told the committee that cutting steel on the new ships on the Clyde had been put back from 2016 because “there’s almost no money available this year, and we are really strapped next year”.
We have had assurance after assurance from Tories at Westminster and Scotland and now we are facing the continuing uncertainty and mismanagement of this vital projectBrendan O’Hara
But Mr Douglas said no start date had yet been set because design of the eight warships was only 60 per cent complete.
Mr Douglas claimed cash was not the issue and the MoD was still negotiating with BAE Systems over the final design of the ships’ communications systems and computer networks.
Some £1.8 billion had already been committed to long lead-time elements of the project, he said: “If you were building an extension on the back of your house, you wouldn’t get it priced if it was only 60 per cent designed. We are in a good place right now, but with 60 per cent design fixity, this is about driving it to closure, which is the road we are on.”
Ms Baldwin and Mr Douglas’s failure to give a date for work beginning led to Ms Sturgeon tweeting: “If true this is a disgraceful betrayal of the Clyde shipyard workers and a breach of promise.”
Her defence spokesman Brendan O’Hara said: “This latest blow to the Type 26 programme is an absolute disgrace. When I asked about the scale and range of cuts to the Defence budget because of Brexit and the huge cost of Trident – I got no answer. Today Harriet Baldwin has given us part of the answer. Her comments about the Type 26 programme will have been no comfort to the workers on the Clyde who now look like they are facing an indefinite delay .
“This would be an utter betrayal to those workers – their families and the communities that depend on the work. We have had assurance after assurance from Tories at Westminster and Scotland and now we are facing the continuing uncertainty and mismanagement of this vital project.”
The GMB disputed Mr Douglas’s claims that it was the design rather than a lack of money which was causing the delay.
Gary Cook, GMB’s Scottish regional organiser, said: “I can tell you the navy is seriously under funded despite these comments. Someone has got their sums wrong and around £750 million has been taken out of the Type 26 programme.”
A UK government spokesman said: “The UK government is committed to building ships on the Clyde and to the Type 26 programme. Over the next decade, we will spend around £8bn on Royal Navy warships and, because Scotland voted to remain part of the UK in 2014,will continue to be an important manufacturing base for them.”