If you’ve been on social media recently you can’t have failed to notice the volume of outrage over the announcement that the news that the Solid Support Ship contracts are being tendered internationally and not being awarded to BAE on the Clyde.
Some of the tweets we found are downright incorrect, have a look:
? Whatever happened to this promise @Conservatives !?
— Peter Murrell (@PeterMurrell) April 19, 2018
UK Govt selling Scottish shipyards down the river once again. Broken promise after broken promise from these charlatans. Gavin Williamson due to Govan shipyard today, I’m sure union officials will tell him exactly what they think of him and his Govt! https://t.co/qlea3M71zR
— Humza Yousaf (@HumzaYousaf) April 19, 2018
Even an official SNP article on Clyde shipbuilding states, despite the support vessels having never been slated for the Clyde:
“Now, the order for the additional general purpose frigates could go elsewhere too. In fact, a new £1 billion order for three Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships is already going out to full international tender. This is despite UK government claims in 2012 that, ‘No British warship has been built in a foreign country for the last 50 years and we do not intend to start doing that now’.”
The Clyde is at capacity with the River class and Type 26 Frigate builds and has no intention of bidding for this work. The 40,000 tonne support vessels wouldn’t even physically fit on the slip alongside the Type 26 Frigate builds. Oh and the support vessels might be grey, but they aren’t warships.
The unions are advocating that the build stay in the UK, not that it be done on the Clyde and this is something we agree with. There are strong arguments to build these ships in the UK.
Jude Brimble, GMB National Secretary, said:
“The Royal Fleet Auxiliary contracts are the key to unlocking the country’s massive shipbuilding potential. But Ministers refusal to put the UK’s interests first will mean that instead of a massive programme of shared economic and employment re-distribution, our firms will be competing against each other for slivers of complex warship work. It beggars belief that the Government wants to give this golden opportunity away to foreign competitors when working class communities up and down the country are crying out for decent work.”
According to the ‘National Shipbuilding Strategy’ document, there are three tenets regarding UK shipbuilding policy that impact on the build location of contracts:
- For reasons of national security, all Royal Navy warships (destroyers, frigates and aircraft carriers) will continue to have a UK-owned design, and, will be built and integrated in the UK. Warship build will be via competition between UK shipyards. But international partners will be encouraged to work with UK shipyards and other providers to produce the best possible commercial solution.
- All other naval ships should be subject to open competition (provided that there are no compelling national security reasons to constrain a particular procurement to national providers). Integration of sensitive UK-specific systems will be done in the UK, where possible after competition between UK providers.
- Defence will take account of wider factors (including the impact on UK prosperity) when making these procurement decisions.
A recent article in The Herald had claimed that shipbuilding on the Clyde has “been dealt a blow” as new support vessels aren’t going to be built there. The problem? The were never going to be, BAE aren’t even bidding for them.
Another article even says “unions had hoped the vessels would be constructed in yards across the UK and leave the specialist yards on the Clyde to built complex warships“, support vessels are not complex warships by any definition and the unions appear well aware of the fact. Another article appeared in The Evening Times which points out that unions are demanding the vessels are built in the UK, as seeking an international tender “undermines the national interest” however none of them are advocating for the 40,000 tonne support vessels be built on the Clyde which is expected to be at capacity until into the 2030’s, long after the date the vessels will be required.
We spoke to a contact at the BAE yard in Govan, who told us that the article was a bit surprising as no one at BAE expected the vessels would be built on the Clyde:
“Calling this a blow is a very strange choice of words. It [the article] came as a surprise frankly, I don’t think anyone here considers this any sort of blow especially as we were never going to be building them and BAE have no intention of bidding for them. They’ll be going to South Korea like the tankers as I don’t think any UK yard is considering a bid for them, we certainly aren’t.”
An MoD spokesperson said:
“There will be an international competition to build the ‘Fleet Solid Support’ supply ships, which UK companies will be able to enter, with a separate UK-only competition for customisation work and trials. This approach ensures the best value for money for taxpayers.”