Despite multiple corrections, explanations and pointers, some politicians in Scotland are astonishingly stoking outrage over ships that the Clyde can’t build, not being built by the Clyde.

If you’ve been on social media over the last two months 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. The oddest part? It’s started again and appears to be coordinated.

The above was said by the Scottish Government Minister for Transport & the Islands and MSP for Glasgow Pollok. Someone who should (and does) know better. After similar was tweeted last month, the MSP was corrected by multiple sources. This however appears to have been ignored.

Last month, even the First Minister of Scotland 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, specifically frigates. There are three key problems with the claim of betrayal:

    • 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:

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.”

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.”

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, just not the Clyde. This was pointed out by Douglas Chapman, MP for Dunfermline & West Fife and SNP Spokesperson for Defence.

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.

61 COMMENTS

  1. You voted no UKDF we get it 😂

    It’s a few tweets that are barely getting anywhere outside the twitter sphere.

    Sick of hearing this story on here now, and this is the first article of the day even though on the radio on my to work there was a much bigger story about defence, one of the main bulletins, the statement from the public accounts committee, the affordability gap has worsened since reviewed last year.

    Much rather discuss that than a tweet from Humza Yousaf.

    • SS,
      This story has now become front page news after the great and wonderful OZ Cprbyn declared an interest in it before arriving in theatre for a visit. (I do hope he booked his train seat this time). To the media and a lot of the unwashed Corbyn can do anything (Well he was slipping Abbott one for a while) but leave out that actually the great Corbyn unlike the Scarecrow doesn’t have a brain:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nauLgZISozs

      • Yeah nice one 👍

        I bet the dinner table conversation is riveting in your house with that eloquent vocabulary, passive aggressiveness and superb level of debate.

        But I’ll be the grown up here and reply to the only bit of your reply that is on topic and worthwhile.

        Yes so I see he will be commentating on that later today I’ve just read, still stand by what I say mostly though as the article is still highlighting the SNP, no mention of Corbyn.

        And that still in my eyes is nowhere near the main story of the day that I alluded to in my last paragraph.

        • SS wrote:
          I bet the dinner table conversation is riveting in your house with that eloquent vocabulary, passive aggressiveness and superb level of debate.

          Oh please with the sanctimonious moaning minnie angle. I dont hear you complaining when the left come out
          Nasty tory party
          Ding dong the witch is dead
          How they remain silent on anti-semtism, or even the thousands of little girls.who have been raped. Or even how the UK in 1946 (the world leader in Jet engines) under a labour government gave, (Yes gave) Moscow under Stalin examples of the best jet engine in the world.But have a giraffe regards the great Corbyn and I’m a nasty little fellow.

          Oh and just for the record , want to know why I will never vote Labour. Because to Labour I am not English, but rather an ethnic minority.

        • Corbyn hates UK armed forces with a passion …. He went to a hippy concert last year before armed forces day … Corbyn wouldn’t build any ships …

  2. I see Corbyn has joined the party also calling for all Navy ships to be built in the UK, even though they already are. Jeremy would probably build these in the UK to protect jobs irrespective of the cost but he would also slash the defence budget and stop sales of Typhoon the the Middle East effectively closing down production. The next labour government will put political ideology above country.

    Rant over 😉

    The right thing to do is to put this to an international tender but any UK yard or consortium coming with 20% of the winning bid should be considered. This would ensure that UK yards have an eye on being internationally competitive.

      • No he is right with political ideology.

        Any leader of the Labour Party advocating British ships to be built abroad should not be anywhere near the Labour Party.

        • No leader who blindly signs a blank check to industry is doing the UK worker a service. German productivity is almost 30% higher than the UK. If we want long term job security then UK has to be competitve, there only 3 ships to build so unless foreign orders are won, giving this to a UK yard is nothing more than a sticking plaster.

          • How does UK productivity improve by giving UK taxpayer money and work to South Korean shipyards?

            And seeing that South Korean shipyards are more efficient than German yards, why doesn’t Germany have its warships built there too?

    • Oh, I don’t know expat, whilst the Great Corbyn would most certainly stop arms sales to our current allies, you can rest assured that the likes of Hamas, Hezb-allah and Iran would not only see their funding increase , but be allowed to have a minister without portfolio in the cabinet in which to help them expand their actives into the Uk.

      • I do have to have a little snigger at the Labour view that vicious undemocratic potential enemies should be left as they are so as not to bring in something worse and less predictable (logical argument) whereas similar regimes (or indeed far less vicious on occasion) who are friendly and strategic allies and as such keep regions relatively less dangerous and unpredictable and away from something far worse (surely the logic of the first policy) should be treated as despicable enemies and completely alienated. A somewhat flexible and self defeating view of foreign policy and rapprochement I would say on the World scale, nor indeed especially consistent or moral (despite the protestations) while certainly taking no account of your own stability/safety in the wider increasingly dangerous world. But then the former are generally identified as of the left while the latter generally deemed of the right even if to all intents and purposes in reality one would find it tough to detect the difference for the people suffering there.

  3. Standard practice from Scottish politicians who have to try to defend there own shambolic policies. If in doubt blame the English and as for Corbyn…well, what’s to say.

  4. Corbyn as ever is in the wrong place, he would have some impact if he was in Rosyth, which could assemble ships of that size. It rather depends on whether Babcock or someone else, perhaps a revamped ACA, would wish to bid. It just illustrates the standard of politician we have at the moment, both north and south of the border.
    I do like the idea of trying to launch a big ship from the BAE Glasgow yard, it would make a very useful bridge across the Clyde!

  5. It’s all to do with capacity.

    BAE Clyde will be building the Type 26 for the foreseeable future.

    The Type 31e will either be built by Babcock which involves really the rest of the UK shipbuilding yards including Ferguson’s on the Clyde.

    If BAE win the Type 31 order then it will be built by Cammell Laird only under the guidance of BAE.

    So could the support ships be built by Babcock if they also win the order for the Type 31 at the same time?

    Could the support ships be built by Cammell Laird if they also win the order for the Type 31?

    You could give the support ship order to the Type 31 loosing consortia/company but would this mean that the Type 31 design would be compromised?

    Can these shipyards also compete on price and delivery versus the South Koreans especially with the projected £5Bn-20Bn budget shortfall on MOD capital expenditure over the next 20 years?

    It requires a carefully thought out strategy to keep all of the yards busy without price escalating or compromise in the design opposed to poiticians twitting to get votes.

  6. I have to say I’m appalled by your comments. I seriously doubt if any of you were or are employed at UK shipyards. If not you have no right to comment on these matters. From a history buff. For my part I will continue to comment on whatever the flip I like but I hope we will all be keeping an eye out for those who profess they have an exclusive right to discuss certain subjects.

      • John so do you think you have a right to comment on matters not related to your former place of work ? I think you have every right to say what you like about whatever you like.

    • Well that IS an amusing analysis.

      Is it really true that: If someone doesn’t have direct experience in and of something then they should not be allowed to common on that thing?

      If it were, then that would stop all sensible discourse on just about any topic by just about anyone.

      Moreover:
      “I have to say I’m appalled by your comments. I seriously doubt if any of you were or are employed at UK shipyards. If not you have no right to comment on these matters.” CONTRADICTS
      “For my part I will continue to comment on whatever the flip I like but I hope we will all be keeping an eye out for those who profess they have an exclusive right to discuss certain subjects.”

      You cannot rationally demand “you have no right to comment on these matters” in one sentence and then 100 characters later condemn others for limiting peoples’ rights to “discuss certain subjects”. In one paragraph you have managed to demand something which you condemn.

      Are you sure this is what you meant?

      • Nathan I was being sarcastic. Mr raftastic and at last one other contributor used that against me a couple of days ago. It made me angry until I realised how ludicrous an argument it was. If anyone ever says it to you reply how I intend and tell them to go away quickly.

      • The decision to allow foreign countries to bid. It’s not hard to connect the dots, they are closely spaced…

      • Per Evan’s reply; that the existing rules and definitions will apply. We live in a democracy and we have all had a chance to have our say hear, elsewhere and by directly writing to our MPs. To continue the discussion is just wasting energy which I think would be better spent trying to influence, if possible, the specification and role of these ships and the Type 31 program for example. Just my view.

        • Bollox. The decision where to build the ships hasn’t been taken yet. Plenty of time left to lobby for a British build.

          Your view is not one that supports the best for the UK.

          • (Chris H) Paul P – Can you please define ‘competitive bid’ for us?

            What PV factors will you formulate to balance the 100% loss of taxpayer money abroad for ownership of 3 vessels against 100% retention of taxpayer money inside the UK economy and the same ownership of said 3 vessels?

            Personally I believe the balancing factor is over 40% in favour of a UK build on just tax return alone. So any foreign bids less than 40% cheaper are in fact noncompetitive

            The real danger for the Government is if they open it up and a French State owned or funded shipyard wins the contract. And lets not kid ourselves that Macron would happily spend euros to poke Albion in the eye. The Government lost the plot over UK passports but the political fallout if a French yard win this contract will be huge …

          • @Chris…

            You believe?

            I am not sure that measure is used in fiscal planning.

            I agree that there will be a cut off point as to where the ship is actually cheaper but to simply pick a random figure out of the air is ludicrous.

            Also you fail mention that no UK yard appears to want to build the ships.

  7. Differentiating between RFA and warships is a difference without a meaning.

    Just call these ships military ships i.e. ships built for a military purpose. That’s what the EU calls them.

    Now explain why some military ships have to be built in the UK and others not? The government has never explained it, just laid down an arbitrary rule. So what’s the reason?

    • Ron the reasons are in loads of articles on this site, it really doesn’t take much brain power to work out some of the reasons either.

      • Once again, more bollox.

        Neither your reply or the article above, attempts to explain why the government policy differentiates between two classes of ships, which are both built for purely military purposes and are both paid for out of the defence budget. Yet one class has to be built in the UK and the other not.

        • One type is designed to shoot stuff, the other is designed to carry the stuff the other needs to let it shoot. The shooty boat is difficult to build, the carry boat is not. It is important to retain the ability to build shooty boats for security. Carry boats do not require the same undertaking to build, so our ability to build them isn’t as badly affected if foreign yards build some. I think all RN or RFA ships should be built in Britain, but there are reasons why some ships are not required to be built here.

        • One type is a complex military ship that bristles with cutting edge technology. The other is a basic off the shelf ship designed to support the Navies operations. Building complex ships in the UK makes sure we keep our knowledge base and military engineering capability up to scratch. The other simply supports jobs. Now if possible both should be built in the UK but as we know, the UK shipyards rarely bid for the support ships as they either do not have the capacity or they just do not believe they can make any money from the contracts. South Korea however churns these types of ships out on a production line so they can make money from economies of scale. So we purchase the basic vessels from them and then do the fitting out in the UK.

          If we mandated that all military ships had to be built in the UK then we would almost certainly be waiting a very long time for new support ships…

          Also not even all the ships in the US navy are built in the US!

          If you really want these built in the UK then buy majority of the shares in BAE and then you can force them to bid for the contracts. The UK Government can not force private shipyards to build ships they do not want to build…

  8. I am slightly traumatised by the “slipping Diane Abbot one” comment – I was about to eat…..

    seriously though, the point is being missed here – there is no money in building grey merchant vessels – what we should be doing is getting a nation to build them that will buy a T31E or two in return.

    Korea buy US kit and always will, Indonesia on the other had are running an old Leander (and love it so much that it’s still their flagship) and have purchased 2 ex Brunei BAE built OPV’s

    they need at least 4 frigates in the next few years and we sit back while the Damen (dutch) court them to build their frigates under licence – all filled with cloggie machinery.

    the navy shipyard could easily build these RFA vessels in Java with good quality and price – wed could push for British underwater hardware and have a BAE team in there to commission the first type 31E built in the UK and supervise building of another 31E under licence with all the parts coming from the UK.

    If anyone doubts this – take a look at the two SSV vessels they have just delivered to the Philippine Navy – nice vessels with a well dock with 2 x LCU in each – all powered by British propulsion systems I may add:):)

    we have allies in Asia – we just don’t realise it

  9. It may be just me, but how the hell are they going to land a meduim rotor on the roof of that hanger without loosing a mast, funnel, CIWS, helicopter or the whole aft end of the ship in a big fireball. Just saying…….

    • I’m pretty sure that the renders UKDJ are using to illustrate their articles on SSS are the same old concept drawings that have been circulating for years now whereas I think the text is based on the few scant details that have leaked recently, possibly from last month’s industry day, so there is probably no connection whatsoever between the renders and the recent (accurate?) design details leaking out. Then again, given I’ve never seen any sources quoted for the recent reporting, even for the 40,000 ton estimate on displacement, I’m not sure we have anything whatsoever that we can reasonably discuss regarding the design. Very frustrating!

  10. Afternoon all
    This has nothing to do with defence – this is all about sound bite and support of Unite.
    Never let the truth get in the way of tweets, Facebook etc.
    Corbyn could care less whether they are defined as complex warships, could care if the capacity to build was there or not, couldn’t care that EU law stops the U.K. from awarding the builds to U.K. yards, what he cares about is sound bites and headlines. He supported Unite today, that’s what he was there for, he is now on public record supporting Unite who support British workers building British warships in Scotland
    Details don’t interest politicians, votes do

    • “couldn’t care that EU law stops the U.K. from awarding the builds to U.K. yards”

      That’s bullshit Lee.

      • Interpretation of law.
        U.K. yards would never win work in open competition – or we would have thriving ship yards producing ships for countries around the world, we don’t. Therefore subsidies would be required, state subsidies as far as I can understand is against most trade laws, EU included.
        These ships can be built cheaper and quicker elsewhere.
        The competition is open remember, let’s see if the U.K. yards compete? If they don’t I am sure the unions and by default Corbyn will them blame someone else, more headlines, more news.

        • That’s a helluva comedown from “EU law stops the U.K. from awarding the builds to U.K. yards”

          To be honest Lee it’s not that big of an issue for me now because the decision for open competition has been made, the Tide class seem great value for money and are a short term saving but that if anything is just an example of where we are as a country.

          Imo what should be happening is all government spending on the Navy and RFA should be spent at home, creating and protecting British jobs, maintaining the skilled workforce, using British steel. Even if they cost double most of the money stays in the economy, nearly every penny spent would trickle back into it.

          But now we’re at a stage where a £125m going into Korea on a Korean ship rather than £175m into Britain on a British made ship is seen as a better option out of pure fear they might not get built at all, because of how skint and mismanaged we are. That is a sad state of affairs for Great Britain.

      • (Chris H) – So if its bullshit why was it the British passport contract had to be put out to tender via the ‘Official Journal of the European Union’ (OJEU) and yet the French contract didn’t as it was classified as ‘National Security’.

        All Central Government contracts are controlled by these Thresholds:

        https://europa.eu/youreurope/business/public-tenders/rules-procedures/index_en.htm#Thresholds-EU-rules

        The controlling Directive is here:

        http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?qid=1424946753358&uri=CELEX:32014L0024

        So with great respect to some here it is indeed the case that EU law stops the U.K. from awarding the builds to U.K. yards. And by forcing it into the OJEU other countries outside the EU can bid and are protected by the same rules. Which of course allow a losing contractor to challenge the awarding decision.

        What happens of course is other countries find ways to re-classify contracts to avoid opening up competition via the OJEU. when for example was the last time a German Police force bought a non-German car, or an Italian Council bought a non-Italian vehicle? Sadly in some ways but rightly so we play by the rules and are losers for it….

        I recall being at a dinner with the senior managers of a Dutch company with whom we did business and the debate was about Maggie at the time making life difficult for Delors over Maastricht and the rules being negotiated. I explained we just wanted the rules laid out so we could all play by them on a level playing field. The Dutch MD just replied “Do what we do and agree to everything and then ignore them …”

      • (Chris H) – Oops just fell into the Moderation pit ….
        So Part One:
        So if its bullshit why was it the British passport contract had to be put out to tender via the ‘Official Journal of the European Union’ (OJEU) and yet the French contract didn’t as it was classified as ‘National Security’.

        All Central Government contracts are controlled by these Thresholds:

        https://europa.eu/youreurope/business/public-tenders/rules-procedures/index_en.htm#Thresholds-EU-rules

      • (Chris H) Part Two:

        The controlling Directive is here:

        http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?qid=1424946753358&uri=CELEX:32014L0024

        So with great respect to some here it is indeed the case that EU law stops the U.K. from awarding the builds to U.K. yards. And by forcing it into the OJEU other countries outside the EU can bid and are protected by the same rules. Which of course allow a losing contractor to challenge the awarding decision.

        What happens of course is other countries find ways to re-classify contracts to avoid opening up competition via the OJEU. when for example was the last time a German Police force bought a non-German car, or an Italian Council bought a non-Italian vehicle? Sadly in some ways but rightly so we play by the rules and are losers for it….

        I recall being at a dinner with the senior managers of a Dutch company with whom we did business and the debate was about Maggie at the time making life difficult for Delors over Maastricht and the rules being negotiated. I explained we just wanted the rules laid out so we could all play by them on a level playing field. The Dutch MD just replied “Do what we do and agree to everything and then ignore them …”

        • Military buys are excluded from the rules you are quoting. The UK can place the order with whomever and wherever it pleases.

          • (Chris H) Ron5 – Sorry but read the Directive. These ships are not classed as ‘military’ given they are crewed by civilians and have no offensive armaments and are ordered by Central Government and so fall under the OJEU Directive. But you make my point. We should indeed classify these under ‘National Security’ and therefore ‘military’ and build them here bypassing the OJEU. But we don’t. We play by the rules and as I said lose out. Meanwhile France, Italy and Germany play to their own rules and would, and do, classify these as ‘military’ so they can build them in their own yards.

            We just need to do what the others do and give a middle digit to EU Directives … Roll on March 2019.

          • You are incorrect. UK RFA ships do not fall under the directive you are quoting. Neither do Naval auxiliaries from any other EU country as can be seen by their ordering and build. Check France and Italy who have placed recent orders.

        • “EU law stops the U.K. from awarding the builds to U.K. yards”

          Still sounds a bit too much express headline for me so I called bullshit, nothing prevents us from awarding it here, the law makes it an open competition.

          I understand where you’re coming from though, EU law prevents us giving it straight to a British shipyard because of what we classify the ship.

          From what I can take from all these comments is that if the government really wanted these built in the UK it would be a piece of piss.

  11. How truly ironic that two political parties that despise the armed forces and would do everything they could to slash them to the bone are now hammering on about ship orders. If they got into power there wouldn’t be any orders and everyone would lose their jobs anyway.

  12. Its a regretable fact that some people will only see what they want to see ,despite as in this case misleading those who are ignorant of the facts, and of course there are those who dont allow their ignorance to get in the way of spouting their rubbish
    Fake news , of course , combined with huge balloons of hot air.
    There is an apt description in Scotland for that sort” your,e big balloon, man”

  13. There’s a lot wrong with this article, including being politically motivated and short of reality. But

    1. Blocks
    2. Dynamic launches (slipway) a thing of the past perhaps at BaE itself
    3. “The Clyde is at capacity”. Wrong. BAE are NOT the only shipbuilder
    4. Length – has anyone seen a detailed spec yet? Even Fergusons should be able after its recent devlopment to take 150-160 metre lengths. Does anyone know the required length? RFA Fort Victoria, the longest, is 204 metres.
    5. Here’s 305 meters dry dock length ability or
    “Overall South Slipway: 270m x 41.65m internal & external
    Overall North Slipway: 270m x 32.5m internal & external”

    https://www.clbh.co.uk/facilities/inchgreen-drydock

    6. Where there’s any order and a profit to make, there’s aweigh

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