Concerns are growing that a new generation of ships to back up the Royal Navy’s giant aircraft carriers will be built in foreign shipyards.
A Freedom of Information request has confirmed that more foreign shipyards than British ones attended a Ministry of Defence industry day for those interested in the £1bn contract to construct three new “solid support ships” for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary.
Defence officials confirmed that seven foreign companies from Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, South Korea and Spain were at the event, compared to just five UK-based shipbuilders. The event gave companies the chance to learn about requirements for the contract which will go out for tender within weeks.
The new 35,000-tonne ships will provide the Navy’s Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers with vital supplies such as ammunition and food while at sea.
However, unions fear contracts to build the ships may go abroad as the MoD looks for savings in its under-pressure budget, with the UK economy losing out as a consequence.
A similar deal to build four Tide-class fuel tankers in 2012 was awarded to South Korean shipyard Daewoo, but the project has suffered delays, pushing back the final fitting out work which is done in the UK. Originally expected to enter the fleet in 2016, the first ship, RFA Tidespring only enter service in November.
UK companies present at the event were BAE Systems, Babcock, Cammell Laird, Ferguson Marine and Harland and Wolff. Foreign companies in attendance were Damen from the Netherlands, Daewoo, and Hyundai from South Korea, German Naval Yards, Remontowa from Poland. Also present were Fincantieri from Italy and Navantia from Spain, both of which are either partially or wholly state-owned.
According to GMB union, 6,700 UK jobs would be safeguarded if contracts for the new support ships are awarded to a British company.
“Ministers are not bound by normal EU rules on competitive tendering when it comes to military ships,” said Ross Murdoch, GMB shipbuilding spokesman. “There really can be no excuse for sending our shipbuilding contracts overseas.
“At a time when global tensions are rising, the Government should use this order to ‘buy for Britain’ and rebuild our defence shipbuilding manufacturing capabilities.”
The MoD said all the Navy’s warships are built in the UK and work on new Type 26 frigates and plans for a lighter version of the ship means Britain “is witnessing a renaissance in shipbuilding”.
A spokesman added that UK shipyards are “strongly encouraged to take part” in the tender, which will be awarded in 2020. (The Telegraph)