Belfast shipyard Harland and Wolff will play a major role in the construction of three Royal Navy ships, it was announced today.
A British-led consortium has been chosen as the preferred bidder to build the new support ships – creating 1,200 new jobs in UK shipyards and hundreds more in the supply chain – the Ministry of Defence has said.
The £1.6 billion contract will see final assembly for the three vessels – each the length of two Premier League football pitches – take place at Harland & Wolff’s shipyard in Belfast.
They will be built to an entirely British design by Bath-based BMT which forms the rest of the Team Resolute consortium along with Navantia UK. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the announcement was a “significant boost” to the UK shipbuilding industry.
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“By selecting Team Resolute, the Ministry of Defence has chosen a proposal which includes £77 million of investment into the UK shipyards, creating around 2,000 UK jobs, and showcasing cutting-edge British design,” he said.
“Building on ambitions laid out in the National Shipbuilding Strategy, this contract will bolster technology transfer and key skills from a world-renowned shipbuilder, crucial in the modernisation of British shipyards.”
The contract is subject to final Treasury and ministerial approval.
Mr Wallace said the deal was a “feather in the cap” for Harland & Wolff’s yards in Appledore, Devon and Belfast. On a visit to Appledore he told reporters: “Today’s announcement is £1.2 billion worth of investment in three major logistical ships that are designed to support both the carriers and warships at sea.
“It’s a real feather in the cap for both Appledore and Belfast - shipbuilding is coming back to Belfast.”
He said the “big investment” would lead to about 1,200 jobs and 800 new jobs in the supply chain for the United Kingdom.
“I was determined with this contract, when we put it out to tender, the bidders had to commit to investing in the yards and the people, it’s not just about their bottom line,” Mr Wallace said.
“It’s ultimately about how do we make Appledore and Belfast match fit for other contracts when Navy contracts are no longer there.
“I was delighted that the skill base we found here on Appledore can do that, it’s a great yard with a great history and I’ll be delighted to see some huge parts of the ships being built here.”
The Royal Fleet Auxiliary’s three 216-metre Fleet Solid Support (FSS) ships will supply munitions, stores and provisions to the Navy’s aircraft carriers, destroyers and frigates deployed at sea.
The MoD said the “majority” of the blocks and modules for the ships will be constructed at Harland & Wolff in Belfast and Appledore in Devon, with components manufactured at centres in Methil in Fife and Arnish on the Isle of Lewis.
However build work will also take place at Navantia’s shipyard in Cadiz, Spain, in a collaboration the MoD said would allow for key skills and technology to be transferred from a world-leading auxiliary shipbuilder.
Labour and trade unions expressed anger that the entire project was not being done in the UK.
Shadow defence secretary John Healey said: “This decision is a betrayal of British jobs and British business.
“Ministers have rejected a big opportunity to boost our UK economy and strengthen our sovereign industrial capability at a time when threats are increasing.”
Mike Clancy, general secretary of the Prospect union, said it was “a terrible, short-sighted decision” and a missed opportunity to support the whole of UK shipbuilding.
“At a time when the economy is struggling it is short-sighted in the extreme to go with a bid that takes most of the high-value work and intellectual property overseas,” he said.
“Spain will be delighted with the Government’s approach to levelling up. It is now essential that the Government does all it can to maximise the small amount of work going to UK yards.”
GMB national officer Matt Roberts called for reassurances from ministers that UK shipyards would get the work they needed to prosper.
“It’s only a few short years since Harland & Wolff, set to benefit from this bid, was occupied by workers to save the yard from closure,” he said.
“Ever since the last RFA order debacle from the Tory Government back in 2012, we have campaigned for all of the build work on FSS to be done in the UK and for each shipyard in every nation and region of the country to get decent packages of work from this big Government order.
“Ministers finally concede a ‘significant’ amount of the FSS work will be done at home. The problem is that they don’t define ‘significant’ by volume or value and they don’t tell us what guarantees or enforceability there is. Due diligence must be rigorous.”
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