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Promise of shipbuilding contract for Royal Navy frigates left hanging in balance as MPs demand guarantees

THE Commons Defence Select committee have expressed concerns over Defence Secretary Michael Falon’s promise of the MoD contract to skilled Scots.

SERIOUS doubts have been cast over Ministry of Defence promises to build new warships on the Clyde.

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon this month said work on eight Royal Navy Type 26 frigates would start next summer, safeguarding hundreds of skilled jobs until 2034.

But the Commons Defence Select committee are “not yet convinced” the MoD can deliver on their promises.

The MPs are demanding a timetable for the work, a budget and a commitment that apprenticeships will be maintained.

SNP MP Douglas Chapman, who sits on the committee, said the MoD were “havering” about job guarantees.

He said there would need to be a major slowdown in construction timetables if work on the frigates is going to be spun out until 2034.

Chapman added: “Anyone familiar with the Type 26 programme knows that fitting eight ships worth of work into 20 years would require a drumbeat so slow that job losses would be inevitable.”

The MP also raised concerns that the UK’s National Shipbuilding Strategy, set to be announced this week, could rob Scotland of jobs promised during the independence referendum .

As well as the Type 26s, five general purpose frigates will be built to replace ageing Type 23 frigates.

It is feared those vessels could be part-constructed in other UK yards and only taken to the Clyde for finishing.

The Type 26 frigates being built by BAE at Govan and Scotstoun are meant to safeguard almost 3000 direct jobs in the shipbuilding industry.

Securing the MoD work for the Clyde was a key argument for Scotland remaining part of the UK in the 2014 referendum.

The committee’s report calls for the shipbuilding strategy to provide details on how and when the Type 26s and the general purpose frigates will be delivered.

It says: “Without that information, the strategy can be little more than a collection of aspirations.

“The building of new ships requires a skilled workforce . Uncertainty over the funding and timing of these programmes undermines the long-term sustainability of the shipbuilding industry.”

The committee are also worried that what they describe as a woeful shipbuilding strategy will leave the Navy unable to meet their defence commitments.

One of the ageing Type 23 frigates, HMS Argyll, is due out of service in 2023. That will be followed by another 12 at annual intervals.

The committee said: “It is therefore vital that the new frigates are delivered to that timetable. Financial pressures appear to have played a sizeable part in the delays already experienced in the Type 26 programme.

“If further delays are introduced or funding constraints are allowed to slow down the production schedule, the current total of 13 frigates – already an historic low – will fall even further.”

The committee demanded:

  • A timeline, with costings, for the Type 26 programme.
  • Guarantees that the funds are available.
  • Assurances over apprenticeships in key trades.

Scottish Labour’s Westminster spokesman Ian Murray MP said: “The Type 26 programme has been beset by delays, causing unnecessary anxiety to workers on the Clyde and their families.

“We have consistently called for more transparency from the Government on the timetable for, and funding of, the Type 26s.”

Committee chairman and Tory MP Dr Julian Lewis said: “For decades, the numbers of Royal Navy escort vessels have been severely in decline.

“The fleet is now way below the critical mass required for the many tasks which could confront it if the international scene continues to deteriorate.

“What remains of our surface fleet faces a prolonged period of uncertainty, as the frigate class is replaced and all our destroyers undergo urgent remedial work.

“The MoD must deliver this programme of modernisation on time. If it fails to do so, the Government will break its categorical pledge to maintain at least 19 frigates and destroyers – already a pathetically low total.

“The UK will then lack the maritime strength to deal with the threats we face right now, let alone in the future.”

Original post dailyrecord.co.uk

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