Labour Member of Parliament Mick Whitley has said that building three new naval supply ships in Britain would “create or secure at least 6,700 jobs” in UK shipyards.
The Birkenhead MP, whose constituency is home to the Cammell Laird shipyards, secured an adjournment debate in the House of Commons on support for UK shipbuilding on Thursday 2 March.
The Royal Navy’s new £1.5 billion Fleet Solid Support Ships (FSS) will be essential to resupplying a new generation of warships.
But despite Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s promise to lead a “shipbuilding renaissance” in the UK, industry figures are now warning that the lion’s share of the work on the new support ships could be offshored abroad.
The terms of the competition to build the vessels stipulate that they need only be “integrated” in Britain. This means that the vast majority of the ships could be built abroad, with only the assembly being conducted in the UK.
Spain’s Navantia and India’s Larsen and Toubro are amongst the non-UK firms in the running to build the ships. Campaigners fear that smaller British shipbuilders would struggle to compete against firms of their size.
The terms of the competition have been criticised by leading trade unions, with Unite the Union saying that “these are UK ships that need to be designed and built in the UK, using core UK technologies and products, such as steel.”
On Thursday, Mick Whitley called on Jeremy Quinn, the Minister for Defence Procurement, to guarantee that the ships would be “designed and built in their entirety in Britain” and said that this is a “fundamental test of the Government’s commitment to British shipbuilding”.
The Birkenhead MP has joined trade unions and campaigners in calling for the contract to be awarded to the Team UK consortium, which consists of UK companies Cammell Laird, Babcock, Rolls Royce, and BAE Systems. He said that allowing the work to be offshored would be a “tragic betrayal” of the UK shipbuilding industry.
Mick Whitley also warned that failing to build the ships in the UK would critically undermine the Government’s stated commitment to “levelling up” communities like Birkenhead and that shipyards had an enormous potential to “drive inward investment, create high skilled work, and build a more prosperous future for left-behind towns.”