The First Minister of Scotland has inexplicably stated that the international tendering for auxiliary vessel contracts is a betrayal for the Clyde, despite the yards having no interest in them, having never been promised them and the fact the vessels couldn’t physically fit on the slipway.
Speaking during First Minister’s Questions, she said:
“That work should be on the Clyde, I argue that that work was promised to the Clyde and should definitely go to the Clyde. We should be very clear. What we are now seeing develop around that work and the future of the shipyards is nothing short of a blatant betrayal of Scottish shipyards. During the referendum, promises were made to those shipyards by the Tories, and indeed, by all the unionist parties—the shipyards were told of promises of work for years to come.
The unionist parties specifically said that, if Scotland became independent, it would not be able to secure that work for the Clyde, because contracts could not go to “foreign countries. It is an absolute betrayal and I hope that we will hear all parties across the parliament stand up for shipbuilding on the Clyde.”
Sturgeon said the move was an “absolute betrayal” in light of promises made in the run-up to 2014’s independence vote. In fact, what was “promised” before the referendum was work on complex warships, like frigates and destroyers. There are three key problems with this:
- 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 physically fit on the slip alongside the Type 26 Frigate builds.
- The only vessels “promised” were warships, such as frigates and destroyers.
Many, including some who work at the yards, have been surprised by these claims too:
having jut done a poll of those within ear shot of my desk, where we build complex warships on the clyde…not one person is outraged by ships we did not want, not being given to us. we are busy enough already thank you very much (this is my opinion and not that of my employer)
— Distant Smoke (@distant_smoke) April 20, 2018
They were never promised. The promise was for 13 type 26’s and a frigate factory. That promise has been broken (5 T26 replaced with 5 T31, and no frigate factory) if you want to complain that the Scottish have been betrayed, focus on those, not the MARS ships.
— Snowy (@PoliticalTeacup) April 20, 2018
When a friend of mine worked at BAE in Scotstoun he was tasked with carrying out the maths that showed that on launch HMS Diamond would not ram into @intuBraehead. On the day she stopped short by 6 inches. Current RFA Solid Support ships are 30m longer than Diamond. FYI.
— Ron Kane (@ka8895) April 19, 2018
We spoke to a contact at the yard who told us:
“This is the second time this news has popped up and I have no idea why the government in Edinburgh are making these claims, these vessels were not promised to us and they’re not warships. We’re busy with the last batch of River class ships and the first batch of the City class ships. If I had one message for them, it would be to stop using us a political football, we’re sick of it.”
Sorry, There was no “promise” on non-complex military ships (which can’t be made on the Upper Clyde anyway, no room). I can see why unions continue to be miffed but we’re confusing apples and oranges here.
— David Leask (@LeaskyHT) April 19, 2018
The MARS Solid Support Ships are not complex warships and as such, according to the National Shipbuilding Strategy, can be tendered overseas. According to the 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.
Even an SNP produced “Fact check” seems to conflate these auxilliary vessels with warships when discussing orders on 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.”
Up to a point. No pointed out the RN has never built fighting ships in “foreign” yards. Yes said ‘Look at RN tankers built in Korea!’ No replied, ‘Those aren’t fighting ships’. Yes: ‘So you’re saying there’s a chance that work would come to the Clyde?’ No.
— alexmassie (@alexmassie) April 19, 2018
These are not warships, they were never promised to the Clyde and the Clyde can’t build them. What is happening however, where the real outrage should be, is that 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.”
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.
The Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015 confirmed that three new large Military Afloat Reach and Sustainability (MARS) Solid Support Ships would be acquired for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, to replace the single-hulled RFA Fort Victoria, which entered service in 1994, and RFA Fort Rosalie and RFA Fort Austin (both dating from the late 1970s). The Solid Support Ship is designed to carry a wide range of stores to support other ships with ammunition, food and explosives to replenish naval ships at sea.
They will have extensive aviation facilities, with 2 flight decks, one at the stern and one spot on top of the hanger. They will have the ability to to replenish at sea via 6 replenishment stations, three on each side as well as using helicopters for vertical replenishment.