Ferguson shipyard could be a winner in new MoD plan

A shipyard dramatically saved from closure two years could soon be manufacturing Royal Navy warships under a new national shipbuilding strategy, government sources have claimed.

Ferguson in Port Glasgow could win key defence contracts. Picture: John Devlin

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon will unveil plans to spread military shipbuilding around the country, holding out the prospect of millions of pounds worth of investment in sites like Ferguson Marine Engineering in Port Glasgow.

Ronnie Cowan, the MP for Inverclyde which includes the Ferguson yard, was among those briefed on the strategy yesterday, The Scotsman understands.

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However, unions warned the plan still left gaps in production and would take work away from Scotland’s shipbuilding heartland on the Upper Clyde.

The GMB said the future of Rosyth shipyard, currently assembling the second of two new aircraft carriers, could be at risk without a commitment to build three 40,000 tonne Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) vessels.

And industry insiders questioned whether smaller shipyards like Ferguson have the capacity to be part of the new strategy.

Mr Fallon said the new approach would “boost jobs, skills, and growth in shipyards and the supply chain across the UK”.

“This new approach will lead to more cutting-edge ships for the growing Royal Navy that will be designed to maximise exports and be attractive to navies around the world,” he said.

The government is accepting recommendations from a former shipbuilding executive, Sir John Parker, who said warships should be built on a “modular” basis like the UK’s new aircraft carriers.

In a bid to target the export market, a new cut-price frigate class will be the first to be procured under the new strategy, with each of the five vessels to be built for the Royal Navy costing no more than £250 million.

The Ministry of Defence hopes the budget Type 31 design will tempt international buyers, but critics claimed the plans were a symptom of cost-cutting.

SNP defence spokesman Stewart McDonald said the strategy was “nothing to do with ambition – it is all about squeezing costs to the bone and cutting corners, and still leaves real uncertainties for the future for workers at Scottish shipyards and the communities that depend on them”.

Gary Cook, GMB Scotland organiser and Scottish Chair of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions said: “Let’s be clear that the Type 31 contracts were originally promised to the Upper Clyde.

“So while shipbuilding communities across the UK would benefit from a work-share programme of the Type 31 work, this will be at the expense of the Upper Clyde despite its own future already secured until the 2030s.”

Mr Cook added that RFA vessels were “the key to unlocking the massive economic and employment potential of UK shipbuilding” and said 3,800 jobs connected to Rosyth could be lost if foreign companies were allowed to bid for the work.

“Any absence of the RFAs from this strategy would be a glaring missed opportunity by the UK government and particularly against the backdrop of Brexit,” he said.