Depressing news for the Clyde shipyards
I have written on numerous occasions in this magazine about the failure of the UK Government to have a strategic and joined-up defence policy and the impact this has had on the deterioration of our once famous Royal Navy.
It was with some disappointment then that I read recently of BAE Systems’ decision to scale back its investment plans for its shipyards at Govan and Scotstoun on the River Clyde at Glasgow.
Back in 2014, with the Scottish independence referendum looming, BAE Systems announced plans for investment of over £200m to construct a “frigate factory“ on the Clyde and build an order book that not only would contain British Ministry of Defence orders, but would look abroad for export orders as well. There was much talk of the shipbuilding industry on the Clyde being well secured well into the 2030s.
Since then, in 2016 the UK Secretary of Defence Sir Michael Fallon announced the reduction in the high profile order for Type 26 frigates from the Clyde shipyards (from 13 to 8) – a decision that caused some concern at the time. BAE Systems’ recent announcement to step back from its plan to build world class facilities further compounds this bad news.
Interestingly, the UK Government did commission a report into the future of UK shipbuilding, under the leadership of Sir John Parker, which reported its findings late last year. Sir John’s report was very clear in its criticisms of chaotic planning and cost overruns in respect of the Royal Navy fleet and the inefficiencies of maintaining old ships retained in service well beyond their sell-by date.
However, in highlighting opportunities to develop an export market, Sir John also encouraged UK Government support and subsidies to rejuvenate yards outside of the Scottish yards on the Clyde and at Rosyth on the east coast; and he warned of overdependence on BAE Systems as a dominant supplier.
Whether or not these comments have created uncertainty in the minds of decision makers at BAE Systems and influenced the cancellation of its investment plans is unclear, but there is no doubt that the cancellation announcement is yet another inglorious chapter in the rather depressing story of British shipbuilding failing to position itself for future growth.
HAMISH ROSS, EDITOR