NEWS that one of the UK's remaining warship-building shipyards is set to close is as tragic as it is avoidable ("Clyde shipyard workers in new fight for survival", The Herald, November 26).
For too long now the Ministry of Defence has been in denial on the need to move to a two-tier navy. It persists with the over-specified and unaffordable Type 26 Frigate programme, in the full knowledge that this will furnish the Royal Navy with vessels that are unaffordable white elephants – too complex, fragile and few in number for modern peacetime duties, and a painfully inefficient and expensive way of maintaining the capabilities required for the off-chance of major conflict.
The threat of closure hanging over the shipyards lays bare the duplicity of the MoD and the British defence industry, and their claims of two years ago that the vast expense of the Type 26 programme was justified by the shipbuilding jobs it would sustain and the significant amounts of export work that would result. It also raises serious questions as to why the MoD placed an order for four fleet replenishment tankers overseas earlier in the year, on the premise that UK yards were too busy to handle the order.
The combined interests of the Royal Navy and the UK shipbuilding industry would be best served by cancelling the Type 26 Frigate programme outright, and proceeding with a more affordable order for larger numbers of simpler patrol ships, backed-up by a supporting order for three more Type 45 Destroyers, and chartering-in of offshore support vessels from the oil and gas industry for deploying anti-submarine sonar and minehunting systems.
This three-pronged approach would provide the throughput of steel, hulls and design work necessary to keep all three UK surface warship yards in business, save the UK taxpayer a fortune, and would lead to a leaner, more efficient Royal Navy fleet better placed to meet Britain's modern maritime security needs.
It is to the shame of BAe and New Labour in government that the opportunity was not taken when times were good (during the early stages of the new aircraft carrier project) to relocate the land-locked, size-limited warship yards of the Upper Clyde down river to the Firth of Clyde. The alternative decision to create an unsustainable new ship assembly facility at Rosyth has done nothing to promote the longer-term sustainability of the Scottish shipyards, nor their chances of winning commercial shipbuilding work. It has also added unnecessarily to the cost of the new carriers.
1 Pont Crescent, Dunblane.
HAVING spent most of my business career as accountant and director of the world-famous naval shipbuilders Yarrows (before that name was air-brushed out of existence after denationalisation by GEC, now part of BAe), I am saddened to learn that my former company is at risk of being closed down through no fault of local management or employees.
The main cause of the problem is the delay in receiving new naval orders because of constant changes in defence priorities and the disastrous mis-management of defence procurement by the MoD. The negotiation and placing of naval contracts, a long and laborious business, is further complicated by naval chiefs and ministry officials changing their minds about operational requirements, design specifications and weapons systems, with inevitable increases to the building time and costs.
The choice of the company to be closed lies between Govan, Scotstoun and Portsmouth and we are assured that this will be entirely a business decision, although of course "the Government will be consulted". I note, however, that the Portsmouth yard is in Hampshire, which has 14 Conservative and two Liberal Democrat MPs, and I am sure no-one is naïve enough to believe this will not have some bearing on the final decision.
Of course, Unionists are happy to support the case for closure of one of the Scottish shipyards by claiming both would be doomed if Scotland became independent as "the UK does not place contracts with foreign countries". Surely, with the skills and expertise accumulated over the years in these yards, they should be able to meet the naval requirements of an independent Scotland and also compete for naval contracts around the world, as they did successfully in the past.
I very much hope that both Yarrows and Fairfields (as most Glaswegians still refer to them) will continue to survive and provide thousands of valuable jobs and apprenticeships for many years to come, free from the incompetence of distant government departments and the prejudice of politically-influenced decisions.
Iain AD Mann,
7 Kelvin Court, Glasgow.
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