The five Offshore Patrol Vessels ordered to fill the gap created by the Type 26 delay have ‘taken up quite a bit of slack but not all of it’, according to Sir John Parker.
The Type 26 Frigate fleet had been repeatedly delayed over huge financial problems, with the MoD lacking the funds to start production and instead opting to build smaller and cheaper Offshore Patrol Vessels in the meantime in an attempt to retain some of the workforce.
Ruth Smeeth, Member of Parliament for Stoke-on-Trent North asked at a Defence Committee session on the National Shipbuilding Strategy:
“Now we will move on to skills. You stress the importance of the workforce to build capacity in the industry. What are the risks to the workforce of any further delay to the construction of the Type 26?”
Sir John Parker, author of an independent report on the National Shipbuilding Strategy answered:
“Workforces are secured only by workload. I mentioned earlier that BAE obviously have had to reduce the employment in Clyde yards.
The five OPVs have taken up quite a bit of slack but not all of it, so they have got to build back up again to the level of resource needed for the Type 26.
If it is contracted this year, clearly it will be another year before that probably builds up to a significant level.”
The report by Sir John ‘Restoring the Fleet: Naval Procurement and the National Shipbuilding Strategy’ states that:
“It is clear to us that the delays in the construction of the Type 26 have had a negative impact on the development of the workforce on the Clyde.
Apprenticeships are not being offered at the necessary rate, and those currently undertaking apprenticeships are having their skills training disrupted. Furthermore, workers are being required to move from Scotland to Barrow in order for them to undertake meaningful work.
We welcome the efforts made by the trades unions and BAE to retain the workforce during this period of uncertainty, but remain deeply concerned by warnings that further delay could be “catastrophic” for the skills base.”
The report also states:
“The decision to build the OPVs in advance of the Type 26 also has an impact on the workforce. Duncan McPhee, Manual Convenor (Scotstoun), Unite, told us that while he welcomed the work the additional orders would bring, it should not be seen as a replacement for the delays in the Type 26 programme.
Mr McPhee also highlighted the fact that the absence of work on the Type 26 was undermining the ability to provide apprenticeships. Following the start of the construction phase of the Carrier programme, BAE was recruiting 100 apprentices a year.”
SNP defence spokesperson Brendan O’Hara MP said regarding the delay:
“The MoD must now be clear about the level of uncertainty the Type 26 programme faces following comments at the Defence Select Committee today.
The new Defence procurement minister could give no assurances on the future of the contract – promised to the Clyde yards – and has once again placed in doubt the future of the programme.”
Michael Fallon told BBC Radio Scotland:
“Nobody is shortchanging the Clyde. This is a huge moment for the Clyde; we’re confirming we’re going ahead with the steel cut next summer, earlier than expected.
The first eight will be the Type 26 combat ships. After that, we will be building a lighter frigate and we will end up with a fleet that is larger than the fleet at the moment.”
Responding to earlier speculation that the work could go elsewhere:
“BAE will be in pole position [for that contract]. They’re the principal warship builder.”