Government’s new shipbuilding vision criticised by unions

Another 130 warships will be built over the next few decades, the Prime Minister announced.

10 March 2022

A £4 billion injection into UK shipbuilding which the Government said will create tens of thousands of jobs has been criticised as a “facade” and “disastrous” by union leaders.

The Prime Minister said that up to 2050, another 130 warships will be built by the UK, driving tens of thousands of jobs.

But the GMB and Unite, which represent workers at shipyards across the country, criticised the announcement.

Unite said that under the plans, UK yards will be allowed to bid for work, but will then subcontract the design and building of ships to foreign companies, describing today’s announcement as a “facade”.

National officer Rhys McCarthy said: “The Government’s promises to ensure additional work for UK shipyards and UK workers is completely hollow when work can be bid for in the UK and then transferred abroad.

“The UK shipbuilding industry needs a constant drumbeat of work so it can invest in the future.

“Companies bidding for UK Government shipbuilding contracts must be required to design, build and maintain the new vessels in the UK.

“Not only is the Government failing to guarantee work for UK workers, but UK shipyards are not even able to bid for contracts on a level playing field, with many foreign bidders being propped up by their own governments.”

Gary Smith, GMB general secretary, said: “Ministers are again sowing uncertainty with their disastrous policy refusing to guarantee work for UK yards.

“The Government’s scheme of sending potentially every order overseas is killing investment.

“No other shipbuilding nation would dream of procuring its own vessels in this way.”

Boris Johnson visit to Merseyside
Prime Minister Boris Johnson sits on the bridge of a HMS Dauntless, which has been undergoing a refit (Phil Noble/PA)

Boris Johnson and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace visited the Cammell Laird shipbuilding yard in Birkenhead, Merseyside, on Thursday to announce the investment.

The Prime Minister said: “I’m here to launch our new shipbuilding strategy and over the next few years, up until 2050, we’re going to have another 130 warships built by the UK.

“It’s going to be a huge investment, £4 billion pounds going in, and it will drive tens of thousands of high-wage, high-skilled jobs around the UK. It’s fantastic to be here at Cammell Laird.”

Mr Johnson met Cammell Laird apprentices, who showed him how to measure up parts for a ship.

While there, he and Mr Wallace went aboard HMS Dauntless, which has been undergoing a refit at the dock.

They were shown around by Commanding Officer Ben Power and met the ship’s crew.

The £4 billion fund for the new vessels was announced in the 2020 Spending Review and the 2021 Autumn Budget.

The new vessels will include large warships, such as Fleet Solid Support (FSS), Type 26 and Type 31 ships, and Border Force cutters, lighthouse vessels and the new National Flagship, said the Ministry of Defence.

Boris Johnson visit to Merseyside
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace visited Cammell Laird shipyard in Merseyside (Phil Noble/PA)

Mr Wallace said: “As shipbuilding tsar, I am proud to be announcing our new strategy, this is an exciting time to be involved in the sector.

“With significant Government investment, we will be levelling up across our shipbuilding, workforce, from shipyard to supplier, from procurement to designer, creating tens of thousands of new employment opportunities, boosting living standards and pay.

“Our refreshed strategy will see the sector galvanised at a crucial time for our economy and see a vital part of British industry expand and flourish.”

Chris Evans, Labour’s shadow defence procurement minister, said “ministers are failing to ensure ships are built in the UK and to secure local jobs”.

“One in five ships have disappeared from our surface fleet since 2010 and, while a 30-year pipeline for industry is welcome, this strategy does not address the MoD’s deep-seated issues which mean none of its major shipbuilding programmes are on time or on budget,” he said.

Sarah Kenny, chairwoman of Maritime UK, said shipbuilding communities can now “power the future prosperity of our island nation, as green engines for economic growth”.

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