Ross Murdoch: Delay of Royal Navy ships puts defence of nation at risk

Following the UK Government's decision to delay ordering five new Royal Navy frigates '“ saying it had received no viable bids '“ Ross Murdoch, of the GMB union, argues that the defence of this country should not be a 'cut-price race to the bottom'.

The Royal Navy's new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth is guarded by two frigates,  HMS Sutherland and HMS Iron Duke (Picture: PA)
The Royal Navy's new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth is guarded by two frigates, HMS Sutherland and HMS Iron Duke (Picture: PA)

This is a real body blow to many shipbuilding workers and their families the length and breadth of the UK.

Some are already seeing significant redundancies as the carrier programme runs down, while others are in shipyards with a distinct lack of future orders, meaning they will see nothing but a gloomy future ahead.

Depending on which consortium would have been successful, these ships potentially could have brought work in Scotland on the Clyde and at Rosyth, to yards in Devon and Cornwall, to Liverpool, Belfast and potentially other areas.

We have previously had the disappointment of the cancellation of the world-class frigate factory on the Clyde, the reduction from 13 Type 26 frigates down to eight – then the promise of the other five being replaced with five Type 31e’s – only for this now to be paused due to insufficient bids and competition.

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Is our sovereign defence capability this Government’s priority, or Treasury budget-setting?

There are suggestions that the Ministry of Defence is playing hardball with the competitor companies who submitted bids under the £250 million cap per ship set by Government.

However, if this is the Government line, GMB would point to industry commentators who have long argued this cap ranges from at best tight, to at worst completely unrealistic.

GMB has long argued that the defence of our nation should not form part of any cut-price race to the bottom.

Talk about a renaissance in shipbuilding and the steady drumbeat of rhetoric about orders from this Government are proving to be hollow words as far as our members are concerned.

Add to this the ill-thought-out Government decision to put the three Fleet Solid Support (FSS) ships out to international tender, particularly given the shambles over Brexit, and it all adds up to a view within shipbuilding and steel communities that this Government cares little for their futures.

Ross Murdoch is GMB national officer