Mick Whitley, MP for Birkenhead greeted the credible reports, published on 29 October in The Telegraph newspaper, that Team UK, a consortium that includes the Cammell Laird shipyard in his constituency, was unlikely to win the government contract to build the Fleet Solid Support (FSS) vessels as “a downright betrayal.”
Mick said, “If the reports that the state-owned Spanish shipbuilders, Navantia are set to land the FSS contract are accurate – and I hope they are not – then the Tories’ much acclaimed National Shipbuilding Strategy refresh announced last March has already been consigned to the Whitehall wastepaper bin. I am fearful that Team UK’s bid – which could create up to 3000 jobs in British shipyards – will go up in smoke.”
Navantia are sugaring their pill with the offer to work in partnership with the Northern Ireland firm, Harland and Wolff, but as Mick said, “This will effectively mean that the bulk of the work will be carried out offshore and the British Shipbuilding industry will be left to stagnate. We cannot allow that to happen.”
“Back in March Boris Johnson announced his National Shipbuilding Strategy refresh and had the gall to visit the Cammell Laird yard claiming that his policy would create jobs and ensure that “we are levelling up across every dock, port and shipyard in the UK,” the MP continued.
At the time Mick greeted this bluster by noting, “It is all very well having ship building ‘in our blood’ as Johnson said, but jobs, apprenticeships, skills and investment in the sector are all guaranteed by full order books for ships not blood vessels … Today’s announcement was big on rhetoric, but it remains to be seen what this will mean for shipbuilders like Cammell Laird in the long-term.
“The next major test of this Government’s resolve is the competition for the new Fleet Solid Support Ships. Ministers must ensure that these vessels are built and designed in their entirety in the UK. Anything else would be a historic betrayal of Britain’s shipyards and towns like Birkenhead.”
If The Telegraph’s report on the current state of the bidding process does come to pass, then Mick’s prediction will tragically be proved right; “Shipyards ready and willing to carry out the work, shipyards that can bring a new generation of skilled apprentices into the industry will have been betrayed. The addition of enormous social value in their regions – through supply chain jobs, through bringing cash into local communities and by providing a future for the people of Birkenhead and other shipbuilding towns – will be lost. This isn’t levelling up – it is industrial vandalism.”
Since 2020 Mick Whitley has hounded Ben Wallace and other Tory Ministers demanding that they come clean on the FSS contracts and adopt a “British Built by Default” position. He has called a Westminster Hall debate, an adjournment debate, submitted questions and sent numerous letters to the Defence Ministry to try and secure a decent deal for Cammell Laird and his constituents whose livelihoods depend on the yard’s survival and growth.
Every letter has been answered by Ministers repeating platitudes about their commitment to British Shipbuilding but not a single firm promise. One Minister expressed the belief that the FSS will create new jobs and skills. He just forgot to add – but maybe not for British shipbuilders.
In April this year Mick wrote again to the Secretary of State for Defence stating that the Shipbuilding Strategy refresh did nothing to allay his fear that the strategy “will be undercut once more on your department’s insistence on offshoring defence contracts abroad to the lowest bidder.”
Unfortunately, the Minister did not respond to Mick’s request for a meeting to discuss this concern. But Mick told birkenhead.news that as far as he was concerned the fight was not over. “Cammell Laird is vital to Birkenhead and getting a share of the FSS contract is vital to the future of the yard.
“Building the FSS in the UK could secure or create 3000 jobs in shipyards, a further 4800 in the wider supply chain, and at least £285 million of the total spend would be returned to the Treasury through income tax, national insurance contributions, and lower welfare payments.
“I am not prepared to stop my near three-year campaign,” said Mick, “and will bend every sinew to prevent this government condemning the Shipbuilding industry, the economic security of my constituents, the future of my town and of Cammell Laird to death.”