“No warships would have been built on the Clyde, because the United Kingdom Government would not have chosen to build them there.”
The Clyde is expected to work on 5 Offshore Patrol vessels, 8 Type 26 Frigates and “at least” 5 Type 31 Frigates, an increase over what was previously promised.
The issue of UK naval contracts on the Clyde had become controversial after the 2014 Independence Referendum and even more so recently when several groups indicated that the work would not go to an independent country.
The full statement, confirming what many had already known, was made by the Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology with responsibility for Defence procurement and Defence exports in response to a question from Brendan O’Hara, MP for Argyll and Bute, regarding the Type 26 frigates.
“What I can confirm to the hon. Gentleman is that, had the independence vote gone the way that he and his colleagues would have liked, no warships would have been built on the Clyde, because the United Kingdom Government would not have chosen to build them there; we made that very clear.
As it is, as I have just confirmed to the House, we will be proceeding with the construction of eight complex Type 26 warships on the Clyde as and when the programme is ready.”
A MoD spokesperson said:
“The Government is committed to building ships on the Clyde and to the Type 26 programme. Over the next decade, we will spend around £8 billion on Royal Navy warships.
As set out in the Strategic Defence and Security Review, we will build two new [five in total] Offshore Patrol Vessels on the Clyde, maintaining Scottish shipbuilding capability ahead of the start of the Type 26 build.
We will also consult with Industry and Trade Unions as part of the National Shipbuilding Strategy, which will set the UK shipbuilding industry on a sustainable footing for the future.”
Ahead of the announcement, the SNP and others had said that any reduction in the number of Type 26 frigates being built on the Clyde would be a “betrayal” of the workforce, with some MP’s even going so far as to claim “promises were broken”.
A significant amount of MP’s from the Conservative and Labour parties also posted now deleted tweets regarding the number of frigates to be ordered.
The original plan for the Type 26 had been 8 anti-submarine warfare variants and five general purpose variants, this remains largely unchanged except for the specification and design of the later five vessels, which has been reduced to make them more affordable.
The Prime Minister at the time of the Strategic Defence and Security Review in 2015, David Cameron, told the House of Commons:
“There will be eight of the Type 26s and at least another five of the new type of frigate [The Type 31], probably more, and they can be built in Scotland if the conditions are right.
The only way these ships wouldn’t be built in Scotland is if Scotland was independent and didn’t have the national resources of the Royal Navy.”
Then Prime Minister Cameron also told the Commons that the new class of frigates, now referred to as the Type 31, would be “more affordable than the Type 26 which will “allow us to buy more of them for the Royal Navy so that by the 2030’s we can further increase the total number of Royal Navy frigates and destroyers.”
In November, after confirming that the Type 26 Frigate would be built on the Clyde, Michael Fallon also indicated that the Type 31 Frigate will be assembled there too.
It’s speculated that the build plan for the Type 31 Frigate will 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. This is known as “block construction”. 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.
Ian King, chief executive of BAE, had indicated in a letter submitted to the Scottish Affairs Committee in 2014 that shipyards on the Clyde would likely have to close if Scotland voted for independence.
The future of the yards at Govan and Scotstoun is directly tied into the Type 26 frigates and Mr King has said BAE would build the ships at a location compatible with the contract awarding process of the Ministry of Defence.
“In the event of a Yes vote, and as we have made clear, we would be required to discuss the future of the Type 26 programme with our customer, the MoD.
It would be for the MoD to determine how the vote affects the final decisions they have yet to make on the programme, including the future location of the build of the ships.
We would take our customer’s lead in these circumstances. We cannot determine this outcome in advance, or without the direction of the MoD.”
Mr Davidson added:
“This shows clearly that, as we have previously stated, the only guarantee for the future of shipbuilding on the Clyde is for Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom.”
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, we will be building a lighter frigate and we will end up with a fleet that is larger than the fleet at the moment.”
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.
The crucial importance of Royal Navy shipbuilding contracts to the Scottish economy had earlier “been laid bare” in a report commissioned by GMB Scotland.
An economic analysis of the Scottish defence sector by the Fraser of Allander Institute revealed that 5,943 jobs and £162.7 million in wages are supported by BAE’s yards on the Upper Clyde; and 3,870 jobs and £105.9 million in wages are supported by the Rosyth dockyard in Fife.
The report also presents a challenge for the Scottish Government to demonstrate how they would sustain these jobs and wages in the absence of MoD contracts in a future independent Scotland.
The MoD has a 15-year Terms of Business Agreement with BAE Systems MNS, giving the company certainty about the UK Government’s commitment to a minimum level of capacity in the areas of warship design and build work, including the Type 26 as mentioned above, and elements of support covering complex warships.
The MoD has a similar 15-year agreement with Babcock Marine in respect of support work for surface warships and submarines.