Shipbuilders union GMB today accused the Government of reneging on guarantees to build the Type 31 Frigates on the Clyde.

While the Clyde will still be working on 13 vessels, 5 of them are Offshore Patrol vessels and 8 are Type 26 Frigates.

It is still possible the Clyde will build or assemble the Type 31 Frigates but this is no longer guaranteed despite previous assurances.

The National Shipbuilding Strategy revealed today that the government are still to buy at least five Type 31 Frigates but share the construction between shipyards around the UK.

Mr Cook of the union GMB told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme:

“These five frigates which Fallon is talking about today were promised to the Clyde as part of the massive cuts. In return, we would have had a state-of-the-art frigate factory to be able to produce the ships at the price that the MoD wished to pay, and we could attract foreign orders.”

Cook also said that there was “no frigate factory, and now no five ships” and that “there has definitely been a reneging – there has been a betrayal on the 13 frigates on the Upper Clyde”.

“Let’s be clear that the Type 31 contracts were originally promised to the Upper Clyde, so while shipbuilding communities across the UK would benefit from a work-share programme of the Type 31 work, this will be at the expense of the Upper Clyde despite its own future already being secured until the 2030s.”

In November last year, after confirming that the Type 26 Frigate would be built on the Clyde, Michael Fallon also appeared to guarantee 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.”

The first ship is expected to be delivered in 2023 and designed to be replaced at the end of their life instead of frequent refits and upgrades.

As part of the new approach, it was announced that the five Type 31 frigates could be built across different shipyards, before being assembled at a central site believed to be either the Clyde or Rosyth with the former being the favourite if capacity allows.

The Clyde yards are currently working on five Offshore Patrol Vessels and has started working on the first batch of eight Type 26 Frigates, leaving the question of spare capacity. Will there actually be space to assemble Type 31?

We spoke to a source intimately involved with shipbuilding in Glasgow regarding the practicality of building the Type 31 on the Clyde and he told us:

“I think it’s the obvious answer from an industrial point of view but the question is capacity.

There isn’t any at Govan while T26 is in build so there needs to be a new assembly hall built at Scotstoun.”

Sir Michael Fallon said the first of the new ships are due to be in service by 2023 and shipyards would be encouraged to ensure the vessel was competitive on the global market by working with “global partners”. He said:

“This new approach will lead to more cutting-edge ships for the growing Royal Navy that will be designed to maximise exports and be attractive to navies around the world.”

Nia Griffith MP, Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary, responding to the publication of the National Shipbuilding Strategy, said:

“I welcome the publication of the National Shipbuilding Strategy and the commitment to the long-term future of our shipbuilding industry. But as well as investing in our naval fleet, we must also invest in the men and women who serve in our Royal Navy.

Despite warnings over many years, our Navy is facing a crisis in recruitment and retention. The Government is on course to miss its own target for the size of the Navy and we simply do not have enough sailors to crew our naval fleet. Experienced personnel are leaving the Navy because of dissatisfaction with pay and conditions. If the Government was serious about properly resourcing our Royal Navy it would lift the public sector pay cap and pay our servicemen and women properly.”

It is understood that Rosyth is also seen as a potential site for assembly of the frigates but BAE is reportedly keen to retain the work for its yards on the River Clyde in Glasgow according to The Times. Whoever wins, the vessel is expected to be assembled in Scotland.

Scottish National Party defence spokesman Stewart McDonald said:

“It is all about squeezing costs to the bone and cutting corners, and still leaves real uncertainties for the future for workers at Scottish shipyards and the communities that depend on them.”

The build plan for the Type 31 Frigates is expected to 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 and assembled into one ship. This is known as block construction and is far more cost effective.

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.

It is claimed that the Strategy is an important part of a broader industrial strategy that is hoped will focus on increasing economic growth across the country and investing in a more skilled workforce.

 

31 COMMENTS

  1. Mr Cook GMB

    “These five frigates which Fallon is talking about today were promised to the Clyde as part of the massive cuts. In return, we would have had a state-of-the-art frigate factory to be able to produce the ships at the price that the MoD wished to pay, and we could attract foreign orders.”

    I totally agree – Carrier mistakes all over again this time not just with delays and cost over runs but this time with large capability gaps.

    NSS is a farce and lost opportunity

    • I’ve got to pass, on the T26 delays. Depends on who you believe, the MOD had run out of money, or there were design problems. I tend to actually believe the latter. And a delay is better than getting a half-cocked expensive warship that needs rebuilding before being any use, and I don’t mean just sticking in a few extra generators.

  2. As long as Sturgeon holds the Sword of Damocles over Westminster’s head, the MOD will step carefully. It would be unwise to do otherwise. Allegedly, she referred to the Queen Elizebeth Carriers as, ‘An English project.’ If true, that hardly helps the Scottish yards at this time. I also believe in distributing the building of warships across a broader spectrum, than one centre of excellence. Okay, there are risks with such a policy, and quality control has to be on the ball to ensure uniformity. In a time of crisis, we need to source vessels from multiple builders, to meet the demands placed on the fleet. This makes it much harder to disrupt than one central supply, as experienced in WW2.

  3. Or here is another notion, the RN wants and needs the first type 31 in service by 2023 when first type 23 retiring from service. Then 1 type 31 per year and 1 type 26 every 2 years.
    The Clyde yards were reported as saying they could not do this tight schedule thus the work has to go elsewhere if the RN is not going to drop hull numbers below the pitiful 19 frigates and destroyers currently in service.
    whatever design the MOD selects it has to be in service by 2023. I have some hope these 5 vessels are simply the first batch and we will get more than 8 type 26+ 5 type 31s= 13 frigates.

    • We can only hope Mr Bell … We will have to wait for SDSR 2020, I would hope for an order for 8, that would be a huge help to the RN.
      Hard to be optimistic when Fallon kept stating 5 this morning and seems to have quietly dropped the “at least” bit…

        • There is a black hole. The UK Gov is still trying to pretend the huge efficiency savings which were never achievable are funding the investment (it’s not new money) can be made.

          To finish the job further cuts are needed and T-31 numbers and build quality are among those clearly decided upon.

          Sterling’s fall from Brexit hasn’t helped for sure but the damage was and remains SDSR 2010 decade long efficiency drive – or cuts as I call them.

  4. I think this is a case of ‘if you always do what you always did ( let BAe do everything) you always get what you always got’…..late, expensive, uncompetitive ships. Kudos to the government in biting the bullet of competition for Type 31 modules with a commitment to final assembly on the Clyde. I was never convinced by the monolithic ‘frigate factory’ concept. Did I read it right, Fallon used the phrase ‘the first batch’ ( of 5)? Get the exportable design right and HM Govt might just have pulled this one out of the fire.

    • This “monolithic” frigate factory was the ideal solution. It is inherently inefficient to build blocks in small shipyards hundreds of miles apart and then transport them to a central hub. This at a time when we have to do everything we can to make British shipbuilding as efficient and cost effective as possible.

  5. I scarcely know what to say, except I already said it a few times.

    I did warn months ago that the Clyde was unlikely to get the T31, and BAE since announced they’re unlikely even to bother tendering for it, though they do have an outline design. The key thing really as I said, is that the 2009 Terms of Business Arrangement between the MOD and BaE runs out in 2024, and the MOD then has no obligation to BaE to give them orders to build warships or hundreds of millions compensation each year, no obligation at all.

    At 8 T26 in 20 years, 2.5 years per warship, the first three will take until 2024 to complete at the earliest. If the Clyde workers think they’re definitely going to get the other 5 ordered and built there, they need to take a hard long look at what UK Government promises are worth. Nothing, precisely nothing. And that’s nothing to do with the “separatists” or the threat of Indy Ref 2. The UK is stony broke.

    And by the way, building those 8 T26 over 20 years, not 8 years, is going to cost the UK a fortune, keeping the T23 refitted. They’ll be out of life in the early 30s, without considerable monies spent refitting and refurbishing.

    • Scotlands done well out of Royal Navy recently, I saw all those Type 45s built in Govan as I drove to work. 2 Aircraft Carriers have been assembled over many years, 5 OPVs currently being built, the 8 Type 26s and likely assembly of the Type 31s.

      Wonder what an Independent Scotland would have built, 2 or 3 Type 31 class vessels over 15 years. That’s enough to keep a vibrant shipbuilding capability on the Clyde.

      BAE have been ripping the P*** out of the Government for many years now and are reaping what they have sown.

      • More than that Douglas, surrounded by sea (apart from a land border) as is the UK itself, maritime protection would be a priority. Scotland would ahve to have a navy the same proportionate size as Denmark or Norway, specially as like ir or not, the GIUK gap would become the GIS cap.

        Who and where builds them is though, as you imply, a different matter. Norway for instance got its frigates built in Spain, though Denmark built their own.

    • I think this analysis is sound, I had not thought about the dispersed build as a cover for switching away from BAE for the rest of the T-26s to be switched to rUK.

      Whilst there are no doubt many heads to blame, I remain of the view 10 & 11 Downing St are the primary reason things cost so much.

      Lack of a strategy, delays, pushes to the right, LEPs, small runs instead of new all drive extra cost and limit economies of scale.

      I wish it were a party political issue but they’re all as bad as one another – something about the reality of the role, a dearth of political talent or maybe we get what we deserve.

      • Well, even as an Independence supporter I can put my UK (even rUK) hat on, and if I was the UK Government I would not want all my eggs in the Scottish basket. The tender thing does mean they can keep the Clyde option open, but also give themselves flexibility in case Independence happens in the next 5, 10, 20 years.

        The one thing they might have to do is make it clear that any orders made are honoured, but then the normal Conventions on State Succession protect commercial contracts from the previous state government – quite rightly as otherwise business would be very wary, and some contracts have a long lifetime – just like that 2009 TOBA.

  6. The shipyards will get loads of work if the design and build goes well and they deliver a highly competitive ship: financially and technically – foreign navies will surely buy such an asset and much of the work will go to the Clyde securing jobs far beyond Britain’s investment.

    Over to you chaps, your future is in your hands!

    • I think there’s a lot of competition in the frigate market, and it wouldn’t surprise me even now if the UK decides to go for some off the shelf design outside the UK.

      But unless it’s Cutlass that’s picked which seems to me exceedingly unlikely, the T31 won’t be built on the Clyde, nor assembled either, so it’s unlikely further orders would come to the Clyde.

      From the point of view of the UK as a whole, that’s maybe not a bad thing if they can get and keep the required skills elsewhere like Northern Ireland to keep the DUP happy. For the Clyde long-term it’s curtains.

      • BAe and the Clyde have excellent skills. There is no reason for undue disappointment on their part. In my opinion what needed to be fixed was the institutionalised indecision of HM govt and the rather incestuous, self destructive nature of the relationship between BAe and the MOD. The National Shipbuildimg Strategy addresses both these issues. It is great news that it is being implemented. There is no reason we should not kick ‘bottom’ in the export markets with Type 31e.

        • Indeed they do Paul. Fallon mentioned Fergusons to make a tender. My first reaction was to think Fergusons should stay well clear. But no, even though they shouldn’t put a lot of investment into it, they could approach a design maker, and put together a tender, just to give themselves the experience and knowledge to look into a different sector – defence – to their more usual commercial e.g. the Scottish Government / CMAL ferry tenders and orders.

          This makes them ready both for future UK work – and Independent Scotland work if that happens. The only problem might be length overall – Venator is for instance to be 117 metres. I can’t find it, but I remember they had to have the bows out the front door for one build – possibly the 102 metre hybrid, not sure. No idea also if they’ve solved that problem since, might need some investment.

  7. I think BAE needs to be more competitive and the Scottish government could have provided a subsidy for the frigate factory out of the Barnet formula to secure the work and ensure the Clyde was in an unassailable position. Instead both the unions and SNP are expectant on Scotland getting work for the sake of it.

    I personally like the concept of a frigate factory (that is why Devonport was closed wasn’t it) but this is a response to constantly being blackmailed. If the Scottish government actually want to step up on this then I would welcome it, but we need a competitive frigate manufacturing capability and currently we clearly do not have one.

    Will be interesting to see if we can make something of value for £250m – hope we can.

    • Pass on that one, I’m not sure, with the reserved powers, if the Scottish Government would actually have the legal right to subsidise a frigate factory in itself. They would be able to provide infrastructure around, like roads, over and underpasses, roundabouts, even I guess extra substations and other utilities. Even a rail link if appropriate.

  8. It is very disappointing that some ship yards have been guaranteed work for assembling vessels without bidding for it in an open and competitive way.

    The nods, winks and back handers to BAE have to come to an end.

    I see this announcement today as simply window dressing. We need open competition for the construction and assembly of the vessels.

    I also notice that the costs mentioned have gone from £333 million a vessel to £250 million a vessel. Are we really going to get a capable war fighting vessel for £250 million when past vessels are all supplied at £1 Billion each?

  9. My son, currently serving on a Type 23 can retire in five years. He looks likely to do so. He is certain, as are many of his colleagues, that the RN will end up with 12 active escorts and with the rest being sold off as they are built. The Type 23s are overworked and falling apart and he says the government are telling blatant lies when they assure of them lasting into the 2030s. As for the Type 31s? They’ll probably be built and sold off to keep the shipyards working. There is a precedent for this. The Upholder Class ‘dodgy’ subs dumped on Canada. The RN cannot keep its manpower yet alone its ships (and subs)

    • Foreign Aid up again this year by enough this year alone to by an extra T-26 each year – so that’s ok

      Best and thanks to your son Alan

  10. Who sang the song”I want it all ,I want it all” was it Queen. I,m sick to death of the Unions and SNP squealing about betrayal. The Clyde has enjoyed the vast majority of Naval build but its never enough. ITs about time the work was shared more equitably between English and NI yards

    • Peter – Absolutely back of the net! The Ungrates in Scotland are never satisfied. The more you give the more they want. 2nd highest Barnett settlement and the highest domestic deficit and yet they are only 8% of the UK population. I wonder if this GMB fool was upset at his own Union members being sacrificed in Portsmouth on the altar of devolution?

      The Clyde has had a huge amount of continuous work going way back. But not good enough for the Jocks. When you see them calling guaranteed work to 2030 a ‘betrayal’ you know they have their heads up their communal kilts. The rUK yards have seen work literally shipped up north. The Carriers addressed that and pointed the way for the NSS and its only right we spread the benefits of shipbuilding as wide as possible and generate a new generation of engineers.

      The joke is that had Salmond had his way the Clyde would have been building diddley squat!

  11. Bang on Ian. Utterly correct £14 billion on foreign aid yet we cannot fix the capability gaps or ensure our armed forces are properly paid, work in decent conditions and have a career they can be proud of.
    Schools need repair, we have zero social care for our elderly, unless they sell there houses….and yet we freely and willingly gave £14 billion of tax payers money to foreign countries with zero oversight or benefit back to the UK. We can easily afford a decent armed forces if we are that rich a nation.

    • Exactly, we have a single carriageway road for most of the A1 between Newcastle and Edinburgh, yet we give away £billions of Britain’s hard earned money to foreign countries every single year. The “foreign aid” budget needs to be cut massively. Our own hard earned money could be used to increase the size of the Navy, upgrade our shipbuilding facilities, upgrade our motorways, upgrade our railways, etc., etc.

  12. I think this has allto do with the insecurity that the SNP has caused with the constant calls for INdyRef2. The MOD cannot afford to commit all of its eggs to Clyde while the SNP continues to have such desires.

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