The Member of Parliament for Birkenhead, Mick Whitley, greeted the announcement today by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace that the £1.6bn contact to build the navy’s Fleet Solid Support Ships (FSS) will be awarded to the Spanish-led consortium, Team Resolute, with a mixture of dismay and anger.
Mick said, “I am genuinely dismayed that after almost three years of discussing, lobbying, organising debates in order to secure work for my constituents in Cammell Laird and for workers in shipyards all across Britain, the government has chosen to condemn an entire industry to an uncertain fate and hand the contract to a Spanish- led consortium.
“I am furious that after having had to endure the showboating of Boris Johnson when he visited Birkenhead to announce his National Ship Building Strategy refresh earlier this year, Cammell Laird and the other companies who comprised the Team UK bid have now been betrayed by this government.”
The Telegraph reported two weeks ago that Team Resolute had won – even though the final decision was not supposed to be announced until March 2023.
The Birkenhead MP continued, “The utter contempt shown by the government for the Team UK is highlighted by the fact that Wallace’s announcement was not in Parliament – where the issue has long been debated – but in a written statement that means he avoids questions. This is now how the Tories operate – bypass Parliament and use the press.
“Our jobs, our lives and our towns don’t matter to the Tories. But they matter to me, and they matter to Labour which is why I am urging Parliament to debate this issue.”
The Team Resolute decision was justified on the grounds that British shipbuilding company, Harland and Wolff – in both Belfast and Appledore Devon – will also participate in the bid. But it is clear that much of the work will be based in Cadiz, Spain.
The overall impact of accepting the Spanish bid will not bring the kind of revival of British Shipbuilding that was promised as recently as March this year.
The independent journal of naval affairs, Navy Lookout, pointed out, “Harland and Wolff will have to rely heavily on Navantia – the prime contractors of the consortium – having only a small workforce and no recent record of naval shipbuilding.”
The journal had warned back in August that if the Navantia-led bid won, “This will put the government in a tricky position as the much-vaunted National Shipbuilding Strategy would look completely incoherent if Team UK does not win.”
That strategy is dead in the water.
As Mick Whitley pointed out, “Compared with the 1000 jobs Ben Wallace mentioned in his statement on the FSS decision, Team UK’s bid – comprising the involvement of BAE, Babcock Engineering and Cammell Laird – would have sustained 2000 jobs in the industry, created 1500 jobs in the supply chains, and 2500 in the communities of Birkenhead, Govan, Rosyth and Barrow.
“It would have meant the work taking place in the UK and would have been a shot in the arm for local economies in some of our most deprived towns. Instead of this what we have is a complete betrayal of our shipyards, their workers and our communities.
“Levelling up? This exposes this policy as the cruel and deceitful lie it really is.”
Labour’s Shadow Defence Minister, John Healey stressed that a Labour Government would guarantee that naval ships would be built in Britain by British shipbuilders and denounced Wallace’s decision as “a betrayal of British jobs and British business.”
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said, “The decision to award the FSS ships contract to Team Resolute will be warmly welcomed by Harland and Wolff workers in Belfast, Appledore, Arnish and Methil.
“Unite will now be ensuring that all aspects of the contract, including job commitments, apprenticeships and supply chain roles, are fully adhered to. There is a long and sorry history of UK workers losing out on government procurement work and broken promises once the ink is dry on contracts.
“Today’s announcement leaves a vacuum for the rest of the UK’s shipyards and the government must address this at the earliest opportunity. It is imperative that the government introduces a clear pipeline of work for all the existing shipyards to maintain jobs and skills.”