Nicola Sturgeon was criticised for her party suggesting that Britain’s new Type 26 frigates would be built in Scotland if the campaign for independence was successful.
There has also been criticism from many in industry over the continued use of the yards as a ‘political football’. A press release on the SNP website, written by the First Minister states:
“Workers won a contract for 13 Type 26 frigates and have already had to watch that be cut back to only eight vessels by the UK Government.
Now there are doubts over the timetable for these vessels and for other work due to come to the Clyde – which trade unions warn could lead to a loss of up to 800 jobs.”
Another article, this time written by Joan McAlpine a list MSP for the South of Scotland, said:
“During the referendum shipbuilding workers on the Clyde were made a series of promises by the Tories about the future of their jobs – and won a contract for 13 Type 26 frigates. This has already been cut to 8 frigates and now there are doubts over the timetable for the work beginning.”
It is worth noting, work on the Clyde has not been cut. The yards are expected to work on 5 Offshore Patrol vessels, 8 Type 26 Frigates and 6 Type 31 Frigates. This is in fact 19 vessels compared to the original plan for 13.
The original plan for the Type 26 had been eight anti-submarine warfare variants and five general purpose variants, this remains largely unchanged except for the design of the later five vessels,which are now referred to as Type 31. Two additional Offshore Patrol Vessels, making a total of five vessels of the type, were announced as part of the last Strategic Defence & Security Review.
The Offshore Patrol Vessels have been ordered to fill a gap in orders after the second carrier and before the Type 26 frigates begin construction. The first of the five new vessels, HMS Forth, is expected to be handed over to the Royal Navy in 2017.
In November, after confirming that the Type 26 Frigate would be built on the Clyde, Michael Fallon also indicated that the Type 31 Frigate will be assembled there too.
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, the Clyde will be building a lighter frigate and we will end up with a fleet that is larger than the fleet at the moment.”
Shipbuilding trade union leaders had previously told Ms Sturgeon to stop “using” them by claiming that British warships would continue to be built on the Clyde in the event of independence as they know that not to be the case.
Nicola Sturgeon had earlier insisted that it would be a “betrayal” to go back on its promise to build the frigate fleet on the Clyde. Sturgeon said:
“Promises were made about orders to these yards and promises were made about jobs at these yards, and I think it is absolutely vital now these contracts are delivered.
These yards have been through some really difficult times with a reduction in the workforce, and they thought that that was all part of the process of getting themselves into shape for the Type 26 and securing a level of employment here.
This is about jobs and securing jobs in an industry. It would be a complete betrayal of these yards if there was any U-turn or going back on on promises made.”
Ms Sturgeons claims at the time of the referendum that the only option for BAE on the event of independence was to continue to build the ships in Glasgow were refuted by John Dolan, GMB convener at the Scotstoun yard in Glasgow:
“She was saying that the Clyde is the only game in town. I’m afraid it is not.
There’s shipbuilders in Cammell Laird in Liverpool. You have got the A&P Group on the Tyne, who are shipbuilders, and you have got Barrow in Furness.
So to say if Scotland goes independent we will still be building Type 26 frigates… listen, I assure you that if we go for independence we will not be building. We have been told quite clearly by the UK government and I have been told quite clearly that will not happen.”
A source who wishes to remain anonymous, told us that:
“Claims we would still be getting the work in Glasgow if we leave the UK doesn’t match with what the bosses have told us, we would still be doing the work. We just wouldn’t be doing it in Scotland.”
The issue of UK naval contracts on the Clyde had become controversial after the 2014 Independence Referendum and even more so recently when several groups indicated that the work would not go to an independent Scotland.
Ian King, chief executive of BAE, had indicated in a letter submitted to the Scottish Affairs Committee before the referendum that shipyards on the Clyde would likely have to close if Scotland were to leave the UK. Mr King said BAE would build the ships at a location compatible with the contract awarding process of the Ministry of Defence:
“In the event of a Yes vote, and as we have made clear, we would be required to discuss the future of the Type 26 programme with our customer, the MoD. It would be for the MoD to determine how the vote affects the final decisions they have yet to make on the programme, including the future location of the build of the ships.
We would take our customer’s lead in these circumstances. We cannot determine this outcome in advance, or without the direction of the MoD.
This shows clearly that, as we have previously stated, the only guarantee for the future of shipbuilding on the Clyde is for Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom.”
The Ministry of Defence, the customer referred to above by Mr King, has recently made clear that leaving the UK would influence the ‘location of the build of the ships’.
“No warships would have been built on the Clyde, because the United Kingdom Government would not have chosen to build them there.”
The full statement was made by the Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology with responsibility for Defence procurement and Defence exports in response to a question from Brendan O’Hara, MP for Argyll and Bute, regarding the Type 26 frigates.
“What I can confirm to the hon. Gentleman is that, had the independence vote gone the way that he and his colleagues would have liked, no warships would have been built on the Clyde, because the United Kingdom Government would not have chosen to build them there; we made that very clear.
As it is, as I have just confirmed to the House, we will be proceeding with the construction of eight complex Type 26 warships on the Clyde as and when the programme is ready.”
It’s speculated that the build plan for the Type 31 Frigate will follow a similar pattern to that of the Queen Elizabeth carriers and early Type 45 Destroyers in that blocks will be built in yards around the UK and assembled on the Clyde.
Modern shipbuilding makes considerable use of prefabricated sections. Entire multi-deck segments of the hull may be built elsewhere around the UK, transported to the building dock or slipway, then lifted into place. This is known as “block construction”. Yards pre-install equipment, pipes, electrical cables and any other components within the blocks, to minimise the effort needed to assemble or install components deep within the hull once it is welded together.
The Type 26 frigate represents the future backbone of the Royal Navy and a massive leap forward in terms of flexibility of surface vessels enjoyed by the service. It will replace the 8 anti-submarine Type 23 frigates of the Royal Navy and export orders are being sought after by BAE.
The programme has been underway since 1998, initially under the name “Future Surface Combatant”. The programme was brought forward in the 2008 budget at the expense of Type 45 destroyers 7 and 8.
BAE Systems has confirmed that the first steel will be cut on the Royal Navy’s Type 26 in summer 2017.