Once again, people are claiming that shipbuilding on the Clyde has been “betrayed” as new support vessel work might go overseas.
What’s the problem with this claim? It’s Rosyth that is hoping for the work, not the Clyde.
We reported recently on rumours that work on the Fleet Solid Support Ships could go to Spain to silence Gibraltar claims, which appears to have brought this topic back into focus.
This article from last year could be where this confusion originates as despite the headline ‘Clyde yards suffer new blow as Royal Navy orders set to go abroad’ it 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“, while the headline says that it’s a blow to the Clyde (people love to just read headlines rather than whole articles) the article itself goes on to explain that contrary to the headline, other UK yards would benefit from the work.
Another issue with this is pretty simple, the 40,000 tonne support vessels wouldn’t even physically fit on the slip alongside the Type 26 Frigate builds.
“BAE Systems is focused on the manufacture and delivery of the two QE Class carriers, the five River Class Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPV) and the first three City class Type 26 warships, as well as continuing to develop and upgrade combat management systems on all Royal Navy ships. Taking account our current and future workload, including Type 26, our shipbuilding capacity on the Clyde will be full until the mid 2030s.”
I also spoke to a source intimately involved with shipbuilding in Glasgow regarding capacity:
“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.”
Additionally, politicians from many parties have been advocating that this work stay in the UK.
Stewart McDonald, MP for Glasgow South and SNP Spokesperson for Defence, told me last week in reference to news that the work could go overseas instead of to Rosyth:
“If UK and Scottish Shipbuilders are overlooked as suggested, then it will represent another betrayal of the workforce from which the Conservatives will not deserve to recover.”
In addition, Paul Sweeney, MP for Glasgow North East and All-Party Parliamentary Group for Shipbuilding & Ship Repair Vice-Chair, also told me recently in reference to a recent debate:
“It was telling that the Defence Procurement minister made no reply to the questions raised about the Fleet Solid Support ships in the debate this week and perhaps this is the reason why. The economic case for building the £1Bn FSS programme in the UK is self-evident and it nothing more than laissez faire Treasury dogma that is denying British industry this opportunity when it is the most beneficial option for the British economy and the long-term sustainability of the British shipbuilding industry.”
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.”
Compounding this confusion last year, the First Minister of Scotland 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. 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.
An article which also appeared in The Evening Times last year also 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 at the time, 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.”
Other than procurement activity undertaken during the World Wars, the UK has not had a complex warship built outside of the UK since the start of the 20th century at least.
All of the Royal Navy’s new complex warships are being built in UK shipyards however merchant vessels for the RFA are not included in this and can be (but I don’t think should be) tendered overseas.
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.”
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.
The ships are expected to enter service in the mid 2020s.
In summary and as a point of clarification in response to remarks on social media about this topic, the news of the work going overseas (if true) would impact Rosyth and not the Clyde. The Clyde isn’t bidding for this work (Rosyth is), the Clyde has no capacity to build the vessels (Rosyth does) and the Clyde isn’t hoping for them (Rosyth is).
Confusing the issue doesn’t help.