Ministers are breaking their own shipbuilding policy and putting hundreds of high-skilled jobs at risk by inviting foreign shipyards to bid for the construction of three navy support vessels, unions have claimed.
Ahead of a Commons debate on shipbuilding, the UK government was accused of being “hell-bent on destroying UK shipbuilding” over its decision to put the contract for three Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships out to international tender.
The Ministry of Defence insists that the fleet solid support ships, which will carry provisions and crew to warships at sea, are not combat vessels, meaning the contract to build them can be opened up to foreign companies to drive down costs.
During a meeting with MPs at Westminster yesterday, unions reacted angrily to the claims, raising the case of the Sir Galahad, the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship that was bombed during the Falklands conflict, with a loss of 48 lives.
Calls for the vessels to be built in modules at shipyards around the UK and assembled in Rosyth have cross-party backing, including from the Scottish Conservatives, who have privately lobbied the MoD.
Unions say that with Rosyth in the final year of work to assemble the second of two new aircraft carriers, the workforce will nearly halve without new shipbuilding contracts.
Raymond Duguid, the Unite convener for Rosyth, told MPs: “Our workforce has reduced from 2,200. We’re now at 1,800 and we’re going through our second redundancy programme
“If we do not replace some of the carrier work, then as envisaged Rosyth with reduce to 1,200. Rosyth is not an old-fashioned shipyard, it is a modern engineering site that builds ships as well. We are currently competing with American companies to build American equipment, we are competing with the civil nuclear industry, but unfortunately because of politics we seem to be uncompetitive and unable to bid for these ships.”
Mr Duguid added: “The thing that vexes the workforce at Rosyth is that the UK government appears to be hell-bent on destroying UK shipbuilding, which is going through a renaissance.”
The independent Parker Report which formed the bases for the National Shipbuilding Strategy, highlighted “the opportunity with the fleet solid support ships for UK firms to make competitive bids, and hopefully secure the contract”.
SNP MP Douglas Chapman, who represents Rosyth, said: “I am sure the public cannot understand why these contracts would be awarded to yards outwith the UK especially when we have the infrastructure, skills and talents to do the job right here in Scotland.”