Home Sea The renaissance of naval shipbuilding in Scotland

The renaissance of naval shipbuilding in Scotland

30
The renaissance of naval shipbuilding in Scotland

Scotland stands poised on the precipice of a new golden era for its naval shipbuilding industry.

Scotland’s naval shipbuilding industry is witnessing a renaissance, a boom that promises consistent growth well into the 2040s.

Shipyard workers in the heart of Glasgow, Rosyth and Port Glasgow are busier than they have been in decades, fabricating steel and constructing some of the Royal Navy’s most advanced warships.

A sector once marred by periods of ‘feast and famine’ is now witnessing a resurgence, with its shipyards humming with activity and its workforce expanding.

An Industry Reawakened: Glasgow and Rosyth Shipyards

Paul Sweeney MSP, convener of the Cross Party Group on Maritime and Shipbuilding, offers a unique perspective, having witnessed the sector’s challenges and successes both as a former shipyard worker and a policy advocate. He recently highlighted the industry’s accomplishments and the distance yet to go:

“The level of capital investment in Scotland’s shipyards is at the greatest level since the 1960s, when the industry underwent massive restructuring in the face of overwhelming global competition. Today the two major UK naval shipbuilding programmes, Type 26 and Type 31, have underpinned the development of the New Assembly Hall at BAE Systems’ Govan Shipyard and Venturer Building at Babcock’s Rosyth Dockyard respectively.

Both projects are vital to getting these sites into the upper quartile of shipyard facilities globally, as integrated undercover ship assembly realises significant productivity and quality improvements, especially in Scotland’s often unpalatable climate that can cause huge risk to lost working days on shipbuild programmes.

As the Convener of the Cross Party Group (CPG) on Maritime & Shipbuilding at the Scottish Parliament, we recently published a report along with the UK Parliament’s All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Shipbuilding & Ship Repair, emphasising the need to invest further in shipyard infrastructure improvements that go beyond naval programmes, in order to allow the UK and Scotland to recapture a share of the commercial shipbuilding market, especially with the huge opportunity presented by ScotWind. We must get serious about an integrated plan for commercially competitive shipbuilding in Scotland that will unleash our export potential and generate thousands of skilled jobs and drive economic growth.”

The Pipeline of Production

Between 2015 and 2035, Scottish shipyards are expected to construct 24 warships, with several already built and some in service.

A glance at the current and projected shipbuilding schedule makes it clear why the word ‘booming’ is apt.

Glasgow: This city remains at the heart of the Type 26 construction, churning out frigates from two distinct batches. The first batch boasts HMS Glasgow, HMS Cardiff, and HMS Belfast, all slated for launches within the 2020s. Meanwhile, the subsequent batch of Type 26 frigates will grace the seas with HMS Birmingham, HMS Sheffield, and HMS Newcastle, followed by HMS Edinburgh and HMS London in the subsequent decade.

Rosyth: The shipyard here is a hive of activity. Not only is it home to the construction of the Type 31 Frigates, with launches of HMS Venturer, HMS Bulldog, HMS Campbeltown, HMS Formidable, and HMS Active expected in the 2020s, but it’s also buzzing with rumours. Given recent whispers, Rosyth is the most likely bet for the Type 32 Frigates, with many speculating that Type 32 may emerge as a ‘batch two’ Type 31 frigate.

Port Glasgow: Manufacturing is now underway at Ferguson Marine in Port Glasgow, on the first of three units to be built for HMS Belfast, the third City Class Type 26 frigate currently being constructed by BAE Systems, in what the firm calls “a new dawn” for the Port Glasgow shipyard. This phase of work involves fabricating three steel units. When ready later this year, the modules will be transported to BAE Systems’ Govan shipyard ready for assembly as part of HMS Belfast, the third frigate in a series of eight warships that BAE Systems is building for the Ministry of Defence.

Dave Doogan MP, SNP Defence Spokesman, offers a noteworthy viewpoint on Fergusons, highlighting that the yard is building skills and acting as an enabler for shipbuilding around Scotland.

“BAE capitalising on the skills and capacity at Ferguson’s is much to be welcomed and is a smart move. It is also a credit to Fergusons that they have successfully won this work in what is a highly competitive sector and a welcome recognition of the skills present in the yard. It is critical for BAE to maintain the build rates on 26 and improve on these as the build process matures. I am delighted that Fergusons exists today to support this endeavour and look forward to more commercial work being won by the yard.”

Innovations in Production: The Rise of ‘Frigate Factories’

For the first time in many years, multiple shipyards across Scotland are engaged simultaneously in building Royal Navy vessels.

HMS Active’s inaugural blocks have taken their place beside HMS Venturer at Rosyth’s state-of-the-art ‘frigate factory’, illuminating the sheer potential and scale of naval production in Scotland.

These ‘frigate factories’, a revolutionary concept, are large covered build halls capable of constructing two frigates concurrently under their roofs. While one such marvel stands complete in Rosyth, Glasgow is not far behind, with its factory soon to grace the skyline.

Recommendations from the Scottish Affairs Committee

Based on recommendations from the Scottish Affairs Committee’s ‘Defence in Scotland: military shipbuilding’ report, several pathways have emerged that could further fortify the burgeoning Scottish naval shipbuilding sector.

Firstly, there’s an evident need to strengthen collaboration between the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and Small to Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) in Scotland. The committee has identified certain barriers that SMEs face when attempting to work with the MOD. By promoting innovation and fostering better collaborations, shipyard clusters around Scotland can be bolstered. This initiative will not only support the economic ecosystem around shipyards but also invigorate the broader defence industry.

Transparency is another area highlighted for enhancement. The MOD’s procurement spending with SMEs, especially the proportion dedicated to Scottish SMEs, needs to be clear and accessible. This openness would not only build trust but also encourage more SMEs to engage with the naval shipbuilding sector.

The concept of ‘social value’ in shipbuilding contracts is another promising avenue. By incorporating socio-economic benefits into shipbuilding contracts, wider communities stand to gain. However, measuring and tracking these benefits effectively is paramount, and the Scottish Government can play an instrumental role in this, ensuring that contractors meet their obligations and that the local communities see the benefits they’re promised.

Furthermore, a better understanding of the shipbuilding supply chains is essential. The committee observed that, historically, the MOD’s grasp of these chains had been less than ideal, though improvements have been noted recently. By publishing data on the shipbuilding supply chain, a clearer picture can be painted for industry stakeholders and policymakers alike.

Lastly, an industry as advanced as naval shipbuilding requires a keen understanding of the evolving skills profile of its workforce. Continuous research and collaboration between the MOD and the Scottish Government can ensure that the shipbuilding sector’s needs are anticipated and addressed effectively.

In summary, while the Scottish naval shipbuilding sector is poised for growth, embracing these recommendations could provide the strategic edge required for it to thrive in the decades to come.

Navigating Troubled Waters: A Skills Crisis in Scotland’s Shipbuilding Sector

As Scotland’s shipbuilding industry enjoys a period of resurgence, the aforementioned report from the House of Commons’ Scottish Affairs Committee sounds a cautionary note that could have far-reaching implications. Though the sector is celebrated for its specialised workforce and cutting-edge engineering capabilities, the report exposes a looming crisis that is impossible to overlook.

The committee states, “shipbuilding is an industry that requires a highly trained and specialised workforce,” and that “much of the UK’s knowledge and expertise in this area is based in Scotland.” This expertise is fortified by elite training institutions such as the City of Glasgow College, Fife College, and the University of Strathclyde, which serve as talent pipelines for industry behemoths like BAE and Babcock.

However, the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions issues a dire warning that “workforce recruitment, skills and retention were ‘the biggest challenge for the industry and the enterprise collectively’.” This sentiment is echoed by the City of Glasgow College, which agrees that “Scottish shipbuilding cannot succeed without addressing chronic shortages in labour and skills.”

One of the most pressing concerns outlined in the report is the industry’s struggle with demographic shifts and an ageing workforce. The challenge, the report notes, “did not lie so much in recruiting younger people and apprentices, but in recruiting and retaining more experienced personnel.” John Howie of Babcock adds that “there are inherent inefficiencies in ordering a batch of ships and then not ordering anything for four, five or six years. It is hard to retain workforces.

Further, the report identifies the need for continual reskilling of the existing workforce, especially in light of rapid technological advancements. As Professor John Louth reveals, “around 80 per cent of individuals who leave the defence sector before the normal retirement date do not return to the sector.

In essence, the Scottish shipbuilding sector is steering into a multifaceted skills crisis that requires immediate and comprehensive intervention. The issue isn’t merely one of recruitment; it encompasses retention, retraining, and long-term strategic planning.

The Committee urges the Ministry of Defence and the Scottish Government to develop and regularly update their understanding of the skills profile needed in the shipbuilding sector, ensuring both the government and industry can aptly plan for the future. As the industry’s success hinges on its skilled workforce, tackling these challenges isn’t just advisable; it’s imperative.

Maritime UK’s Vision: Integrated Approach for Prosperity

The recommendations of Maritime UK, the umbrella body for the maritime sector, bringing together the shipping, ports, services, engineering and leisure marine industries, further illuminate the path forward, emphasising the need for an integrated approach:

  1. Maximising Opportunities: The National Shipbuilding Office (NSO) should collaborate with UK and devolved governments to ensure that the delivery of vessels within the cross-government pipeline offers economic benefits across the country.
  2. Procurement Policies: A recognition of the strategic importance of the UK shipbuilding enterprise and its contribution to UK prosperity.
  3. Social Value & UK Content: There’s a call for greater ambition in leveraging social value in line with the practices of competitor nations.
  4. Investment in Innovation: Greater investments in R&D, green infrastructure, and incentives are essential.
  5. Collaboration with Offshore Renewable Energy Sector: ScotWind presents an opportunity to collaborate with developers for a range of vessels, with NSO brokering these.
  6. Decarbonisation Projects: The competitiveness gap needs to be addressed, with funding drawn from recommendations of the UK Marine Decarbonisation Report.
  7. Financial Cornerstone for Commercial Shipbuilding: A timeline for implementing the Home Shipbuilding Credit Guarantee Scheme (HSCGS) and exploring options with the Scottish National Investment Bank (SNIB).
  8. Engagement with UK Shipbuilding Skills Taskforce: A prompt response to the task force’s final report is expected before the end of 2023.

Embracing the Golden Era Ahead

In summarising the current landscape, Scotland’s shipbuilding industry has undeniably experienced a resurgence, thanks in part to successful export contracts such as the Type 26 and Type 31 frigates.

However, as Paul and Dave have highlighted, the sector is not without its challenges, including increased international competition and a lack of transparency in procurement strategies. This duality of success and uncertainty creates a complex roadmap for the future.

Opportunities:

  1. Export Success: The track record of exporting Type 26 and Type 31 design licences holds promise for expanding Scotland’s shipbuilding portfolio.
  2. National Shipbuilding Office: Situated in Edinburgh, this office offers a platform for strategic dialogue among industry stakeholders, making it an essential asset for future planning.
  3. Local Talent and Skills: With the UK Shipbuilding Skills Taskforce focusing on long-term workforce development, Scotland has the chance to cultivate a highly specialised labour force, thereby enhancing its competitiveness.

Challenges:

  1. Procurement Strategy: Opening up procurement to international bids adds a new layer of competition, raising the stakes for Scottish shipyards.
  2. Transparency and Analysis: The government’s procurement decisions often lack clarity, particularly concerning considerations like local economic impact, which could disadvantage domestic bidders.
  3. Pipeline Uncertainty: The absence of a robust, long-term plan for naval projects leaves the Scottish shipbuilding sector in a state of planning ambiguity.
  4. SME Engagement: While offering the potential for innovation and economic stimulation, Scottish SMEs face obstacles in integrating with larger defence procurement processes.

Recommendations:

  1. Holistic Evaluation of Bids: A comprehensive, transparent framework for evaluating the long-term economic impacts of bids could level the playing field for Scottish yards.
  2. Pipeline Clarity: A firm, long-term commitment to naval projects can significantly aid in strategic planning and future investment.
  3. Support for SMEs: Targeted support for local SMEs in the supply chain would likely yield innovation and economic benefits.
  4. Skills Investment: A collaborative approach between the UK and Scottish Governments for skill development could prove advantageous for the sector.
  5. Regular Reviews: Periodic assessments should ensure that institutions like the National Shipbuilding Office are fulfilling their roles effectively.
  6. Cross-Jurisdictional Collaboration: Coordinated policy across different jurisdictions within the UK can be a cornerstone for a coherent and effective skills development strategy.

By carefully navigating these challenges and capitalising on the existing opportunities, Scotland’s shipbuilding industry could continue to make significant contributions to both local and national economies while securing its long-term viability.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest

30 Comments
oldest
newest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Trevor G
Trevor G
7 months ago

This is all great news, but prefabrication and build in covered halls is hardly a revolutionary concept, dating back to at least the 1960s when new yards in various major shipbuilding countries were designed and constructed. Even in the UK, this is how Barrow build all the SSN and SSBN, and Appledore merits a mention too.

Jim
Jim
7 months ago
Reply to  Trevor G

Yeah, it shows the sorry state of UK ship building that some one would make such a statement. Even we have been building indoors for decades, just look at Barrow.

Grim
Grim
7 months ago
Reply to  Jim

And don’t forget Appledore’s big brother, the Pallion yard in Sunderland, which is sadly now becoming a film studios.

Trevor G
Trevor G
7 months ago
Reply to  Grim

The old Doxford yard? Hadn’t realised the sheds had survived all this time! Good to see they will live on.

Grim
Grim
7 months ago
Reply to  Trevor G

Indeed. Given its size (I think it could do up to 2 x 40,000t ships side by side) there was a long running campaign to reopen the yard that ended last year when the film studios deal was announced.

Val
Val
7 months ago
Reply to  Trevor G

Go on Facebook and type in “Reinstate Sunderland’s Shipyard” and “Reopen The Pallion Yard SOS – Save Our Shipyard”.

Trevor G
Trevor G
7 months ago
Reply to  Val

Thanks Val. I remember visiting Doxfords and the engine works during my shipbuilding days. Would still love to see a renewal of commercial (as well as naval!) activity in the UK.

Val
Val
6 months ago
Reply to  Trevor G

Yes. We all do. It’s all possible, but for a volatile anti shipbuilding Miller led Sunderland council.

Andy reeves
Andy reeves
6 months ago
Reply to  Trevor G

It’s location, availability of skilled shipbuilders in what is generally a run down part of the country could, with a real commitment to it, be a massive boost to the area, it’s people, and the whole industry.

Val
Val
7 months ago
Reply to  Grim

No. That idea has ended. Check out “Reinstate Sunderland’s Shipyard” and also “Reopen the Pallion Yard – SOS – Save Our Shipyard” on Facebook and spread the word!

Bringer of facts
Bringer of facts
7 months ago
Reply to  Trevor G

Looking at some of the photos, it looks like they have invested in some modern tooling and a lot of other equipment that aids production.

Andy reeves
Andy reeves
6 months ago
Reply to  Trevor G

If half of the money invested on by parliament had been used to maintain a credible yard in the north east of England, then the rates of fleet increase would be far better than the industry can produce.

Coll
Coll
7 months ago

I would have thought that another yard would get the P50U considering its current importance.

ABCRodney
ABCRodney
7 months ago
Reply to  Coll

At present there is little point in proceeding with the build of the P50U, in fact it would be counterproductive to the overall aim of deterring further Russian aggression. The RN has an active and deployable fleet of Frigates that desperately need replacing ASAP, and for Rosyth to remain viable it needs continuity of production and that requires funding. As for currently being important it really isn’t, because it is of no present use to the Ukraine, just like the 2 ex RN minesweepers that are up in Scotland. Under the terms of the Bosporus Treaty neither Russia or Ukraine… Read more »

Jim
Jim
7 months ago

It’s only a end to feast and famine if the T32 build happens and goes to Rosyth and the T83 happens and goes to the Clyde. With H&W being reactivated for large RFA builds there won’t be any more work for a long time. If we want to keep two yards in the game building surface combatants then we need to have a escort fleet of close to nearly 30 ships or we have to be prepared to sell older vessels early and replace them with new ones as outlined in the national strategy. That’s really not a job for… Read more »

Frank62
Frank62
7 months ago
Reply to  Jim

Indeed Jim. 25-30 should be the absolute minimum in peacetime. We are not in peacetime considering the threat, actions & perpetual cyber attacks of Russia & PRC, both bent on overthrowing democracy & freedom.

Jonno
Jonno
7 months ago
Reply to  Jim

This is the best news for Scottish Manufacturing we have heard since the Glory Days of the 1950’s. Its also a Tory government that has engineered it after that terrible Brexit thing. What is going wrong? Who is writing the script? Where is the confidence coming from? Does this mean Scotland will once more build its own Ferries?

ABCRodney
ABCRodney
7 months ago
Reply to  Jim

There are going to be other ships to follow that aren’t on the above schedule. It’s a pretty logical setup to concentrate certain types of shipbuilding to those yards best @ble to build them. So surface escorts to Glasgow and Rosyth, the FSS to a rejuvenated H&W, Submarines to Barrow. But then there are other future ships such as replacement Amphibious vessels which will logically go to H&W, then there are the small to medium vessels such as MROSS (2/3), MCH (4/6) which all look like a good fit for Appledore / CL. The key to getting the continuity and… Read more »

Jim
Jim
7 months ago
Reply to  ABCRodney

Yes, it’s quite telling France is a major exporter of SSK but then French navy has not operated an SSK for years.

Their defence industrial agency also paid for the development of Rafale. To a certain extent France takes this too far in that their military budget is seen as a jobs creation program and much of their kit is outdated by NATO standards.

However there has to be a happy medium.

Barry Hooper
Barry Hooper
7 months ago
Reply to  ABCRodney

Appledore always seems to be forgotten

Dern
Dern
7 months ago
Reply to  Barry Hooper

Appledore is now owned by H&W, so they’ll get a bit of whatever work H&W gets.

Barry hooper
Barry hooper
7 months ago
Reply to  Dern

No really , I would never have thought that.

ABCRodney
ABCRodney
7 months ago
Reply to  Barry Hooper

Not by me it isn’t I may be a Scot but it is the prettiest Shipyard in the U.K.

Gavin Gordon
Gavin Gordon
7 months ago
Reply to  Jim

Noted the French model received praise even from US source recently. Anyway, now for the attack submarines south of the border. Like it or not, they represent the major, most feared & least vulnerable of our capital vessels.
Also noted that a blog known for countering the sensationalism that often emanates from the mainstream press, felt the need to turn attention towards Navy Lookout lately…..as if. All I can say is, “That’s very bold, Sir Humphrey”…….🤐

Barry Larking
Barry Larking
7 months ago

Many thanks for the in depth analysis George and not being distracted by the ‘shopping list’ of armaments to be carried – or not. I would call this encouraging, nothing more. I am troubled by the thought that the political backbone in Westminster is just not there to rely upon; none of this endeavour is much more than three or four incomplete hulls and a lot of paper and on screen P.R. I fear the cast iron certainty that this projection – amazingly positive and welcome as it is – must receive, is missing. It has been missing for decades.… Read more »

Barry Hooper
Barry Hooper
7 months ago

Scottish yards have been looked after by successive governments at the expense of English yards , the work hasn’t been shared around, Govan has had it’s orders given to them.

Richard Beedall
Richard Beedall
7 months ago

The over dependency on MOD RN orders is self evident. The single export order – a 500 tonnes fast attack craft for Ukraine – is being funded by a long-term low-interest UK Export Finance loan and is hardly assured give current events. https://www.navalnews.com/naval-news/2022/02/ukraine-approves-framework-agreement-with-the-uk/ If a country decides it needs a couple of low-end frigates quickly (Philippines? Indonesia?) we have to be prepared to sell on Active et al, to ensure quick delivery. The RN might not be happy about the delay whilst replacements are built, but that’s business. Also, we really need to dramatically reduce construction times. Japan and South… Read more »

Bob bunnet
Bob bunnet
7 months ago

24 new warships but nae reliable ferries.

ABCRodney
ABCRodney
7 months ago
Reply to  Bob bunnet

Scottish First Minister trying to get to sleep, starts to count CalMac Ferries ‘1, 2 …. Blast back to 0”. 🥴

Andy reeves
Andy reeves
6 months ago

I hope that the Scottish people are aware just what a big deal it is, if the yards up their rates of production it will indeed be a golden era for them