Shipyards in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, South Korea and Spain now eyeing up critical defence contract, GMB investigation reveals.
GMB, the union for shipbuilding workers, today said in the aftermath of the blue passports fiasco, Ministers must reverse their decision to put a crucial £1 billion order for three new military support ships out to non-UK bidders.
New Fleet Solid Support ships are needed to service the UK’s £6.3 billion Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers and their strike force of new F-35 fighter planes. The Ministry of Defence has said that the order will go out to full international tender on 30 April 2018.
GMB research, published today, shows that up to 6,700 jobs could be created or secured in the UK if the order went to a domestic shipbuilder – including 1,800 much needed shipyard jobs.
A further 4,700 jobs could be secured in the wider supply chain – including in the steel industry.
The union estimates that £285 million would also be returned to the taxpayer through income tax, national insurance contributions and lower welfare payments.
Exclusive Survation polling, commissioned by GMB, found that 74 per cent of people want the new Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) ships built in the UK. GMB maintains that RFA ships are military vessels that are crucial to the UK’s defence capabilities.
Leave voters were also significantly more likely to support a general policy of retaining defence manufacturing orders in the UK than Remain voters (by 64 per cent to 52 per cent).
The Government’s current policy is to build all Royal Navy warships in the UK but orders for RFA ships are put out to international tender.
Shipbuilding companies from Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, South Korea and Spain attended a recent Ministry of Defence industry day on the Fleet Solid Support order according to documents obtained by GMB under the Freedom of Information Act.
The last contract that went overseas was the MARS Tide Class tanker order, which was awarded to South Korea’s Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering in 2012. The order has been hit by cost overruns and delays.
Shipbuilding and ship repair employment in Great Britain has fallen from an estimated 122,200 in 1981 to under 32,000 in 2016 – threatening the UK’s sovereign defence manufacturing capability [see the notes for regional breakdowns of shipbuilding jobs].
Ross Murdoch, GMB National Officer for Shipbuilding, said: “The Government looks set to repeat the blue passports fiasco by putting another order of national significance out to tender abroad.
“Ministers are not bound by normal EU rules on competitive tendering when it comes to military ships. There really can be no excuse for sending our shipbuilding contracts overseas.
“We have a highly skilled shipbuilding workforce in the UK that is more than capable of making these ships at a fair market price. We face being sold down the river if the work goes to artificially subsidised international competitor shipyards instead.
“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.
“Shipbuilding workers are disillusioned by orders flowing overseas while highly skilled jobs at UK shipyards are being cut.
“It would be a gross betrayal of the spirit of the ‘red, white and blue Brexit’ that Theresa May promised if this crucial contract is awarded outside of the UK and jobs here are lost as a result.”
 All figures and tables are taken from the GMB’s new research report, Turning the Tide: Rebuilding the UK’s defence shipbuilding industry and the Fleet Solid Support Order, which is published today [???]. The report can be found at www.gmb.org.uk/turning-the-tide.pdf
GMB has raised concerns about heavy subsidies paid to some international shipbuilders that are not available to UK employers.