Vital supply ships for the Royal Navy will be built in Britain – boosting UK industry and creating hundreds of jobs, the Defence Secretary announced today.
Three Fleet Solid Support ships will be made by UK-led teams, Ben Wallace revealed.
The widely-anticipated move is a victory for the Mirror which, together with unions and MPs, has fought for the £1.5billion contract to stay on these shores.
The Ministry of Defence said that while “international companies will be invited to work in collaboration with UK firms to feed in their skills and expertise … the successful manufacturing team must be led by a British company”.
Mr Wallace said: “Shipbuilding has historically been a British success story, and I am determined to revitalise this amazing industry as part of this Government’s commitment to build back better.
“The Fleet Solid Support warships competition will be the genesis of a great UK shipbuilding industry, and allow us to develop the skills and expertise for the shipyards of tomorrow.”
The MoD said the competition to build the vessels will begin next spring and will require “a significant proportion of the build and assembly work to be carried out in the UK”.
Campaigners welcomed the plan and urged ministers to ensure as much work as possible is carried out in the UK.
They also called for the Government to speed-up the contract to reignite manufacturing amid the coronavirus crisis.
Labour MP John Spellar, a former Defence Minister who sits on the Commons Defence Committee, hit out at the slow pace of the deal.
“It’s good news they have finally – if belatedly – acknowledged that British firms and British workers should be in the lead, but I would urge them to speed-up the timeline not only for the benefit of the Royal Navy but also to get British industry moving again in the Covid crisis,” he said.
“They aren’t even launching the campaign until the spring, they’re still dithering around and don’t seem to understand the need to get manufacturing moving in this country.
“Why the delay? They know what they need.”
Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions general secretary Ian Waddell said: “The news that the successful bid will be led by a British firm is welcome but it only promises a ‘significant proportion’ of the work will be completed in Britain, which could be open to all sorts of interpretation.
“The facts of the matter are that despite some recent good news, British shipbuilding continues to hang by a thread.
“The UK built up world class skills to deliver the aircraft carrier and FSS will be a vital bridge to maintain the industry to the next round of naval procurement, which could guarantee jobs for a generation.
“Without FSS supporting every shipyard in the UK we will lose those jobs and those skills forever.”
He added: “It is so frustrating that the Government is inching along at a time when we need a bold decision that will invest in British jobs and industry to rebuild the economy after lockdown,” said
But, praising those who battled for British workers to benefit from the programme, Mr Waddell said the announcement was “testament to the work of the Keep Britain Afloat campaign and the Daily Mirror’s tenacious pursuit of the story”.
Today’s announcement about the 40,000-tonne Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels, which will resupply Navy aircraft carriers, destroyers and frigates with food, ammunition and explosives, comes after years of political wrangling over the deal.
The competition for the contract was initially offered worldwide, with companies from Italy, Spain, Japan and South Korea shortlisted, along with a UK consortium.
The British team, backed by the Keep Britain Afloat campaign, includes Babcock, BAE Systems, Cammell Laird and Rolls-Royce.
The tendering process was halted suddenly last November – raising hopes the terms could be reset to boost British firms’ chances of winning the deal.
But in August, the Ministry of Defence triggered fresh dismay when foreign firms were invited to take part in early plans to build the vessels.
Today’s announcement means British companies and workers will benefit from the project.
But Shadow Defence Secretary John Healey warned: “We’ve learned to look at the small print with this Government.
“This looks like a step forward but the commitment has large loopholes.
“The Defence Secretary should simply say, ‘Build these ships in Britain’ instead of, ‘Build bits of these ships in Britain’.
“Five years after they announced these new ships it will be another five months until ministers relaunch the competition for the contract.
“I hope the Mirror will keep up its fantastic campaign to build our warships in the UK and secure the future of shipbuilding.”
GMB union national officer Ross Murdoch said: “Today’s announcement is an important victory for the campaign run by shipbuilding unions and the Daily Mirror to build these ships in the UK.
“GMB has long argued that placing the order with UK yards will support thousands of jobs in shipbuilding and the wider supply chain, including steel.
“However, important questions remain to be answered.
“It is unclear whether ministers will require all shipbuilding work on the contracts to be done in the UK, instead of going overseas.”