Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon has heralded a new “frigate factory” on the Clyde more than two years after its construction was cancelled.

The Conservative minister made the claim - described as a “howler” by the SNP - as he outlined plans to open up warship-building to what unions called “dog-eat-dog” UK-wide competition.

Opposition politicians and workers said they felt the Clyde had been sold down the river after Glasgow was effectively dropped as the UK’s single centre of excellence for complex military vessels.

During the independence referendum Tory leaders were widely understood to have promised Clyde yards 13 new frigates.

BAE Systems even demolished sheds at its old Scotstoun yard to make away for an expected factory to make those ships.

Sir Michael’s Government, however, slashed its order of complex Type 26s from 13 to eight and BAE Systems decided to build the vessels across two yards, Govan and Scotstoun, rather than at one.

Mr Fallon yesterday announced that yards across the UK would be able to bid for another five further frigates, the far cheaper and less complex Type 31.

When doing so on Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland, he described facilities at the two yards as a “frigate factory”.

SNP MP Chris Stephens, whose Glasgow South-West constituency includes the Govan yard, seized on the slip-up.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Stephens said: “As the hunt goes on for the mystical frigate factory, which the Secretary of State cancelled in June 2015, may I ask him what shipyard reconstruction investment he is going to make on the Clyde?”

Frigate factory? The empty space where it would have been


Sir Michael, formally announcing the new National Shipbuilding Strategy at Westminster, responded that Mr Stephens was “doing his best to turn sunshine into a grievance”.

He added: “Govan will build eight enormous frigates over 20 years. That is a frigate factory by any definition.”

Sir Michael Fallon meets Govan workers in July


BAE Systems is investing around £100m in upgrades at Govan and Scotstoun, but will be making £1bn frigates partly outdoors rather than in a state of the art factory that experts claimed would cost just £200m.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, joined a chorus of protests. She said: “Certainly for the Clyde it is only a couple of years ago that workers were being promised a frigate factory on the Clyde - there’s no mention of that today.

“I think workers on the Clyde today have every right to feel let down and betrayed.”

The plans form part of a new national shipbuilding strategy which accepts the recommendations of an independent report into the industry by Sir John Parker, the chairman of mining giant Anglo American.

In November, Sir John said the Navy fleet was being depleted by a “vicious cycle” of old ships retained beyond their sell-by date, and found that the procurement of naval ships took too long from concept to delivery compared with other industries.

A computer-generated image of a Type 26 frigate

Sir Michael said: “This new approach will lead to more cutting-edge ships for the growing Royal Navy that will be designed to maximise exports and be attractive to navies around the world.”

Both workers and managers at BAE Systems have expressed private scepticism about the ability of other yards, with limited experience, and even less infrastructure, to make complex warships on their own.

Industry insiders are more he optimistic that UK yards could share the construction of large support vessels, Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships, or RFAs for Britain’s two new carriers. These ships could go to foreign yards. Mr Stephens pressed Mr Fallon on the issue in the Commons.

The Defence Secretary said he would encourage British manufacturers to bid to make them.

Gary Cook of the GMB union suggested a shared order with the frigates and RFAs - something Mr Fallon has rejected.

Mr Cook said: “Without the RFAs, UK shipbuilding will be a ‘dog eat dog’ environment with yards across the country competing for the Type-31 work, creating a big problem for Scottish shipbuilding.

“Although the future of the Upper Clyde is secure until the 2030s through the Type-26 programme, the promised ‘frigate factory’, vital to the UK’s ability to compete in the global market, has been shelved.”

Analyisis from Paul Sweeney MP:  It’s not too late to future-proof Scotland’s high-tech warship yards

Experts have previously told the House of Commons that competition could increase costs. France, Italy and other countries have invested in a single high-tech warship yards.

The Clyde has effectively established itself as the UK’s only centre of excellence for complex warship design and construction.
The Type 26 frigates – and the stability that brings – provide a-once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest for the
long term.
The river’s yards have already done comprehensive international benchmarking, in fact I was involved in this when I worked there.

Paul Sweeney MP

They have come up with designs for new infrastructure,
a frigate factory, that would rank them among the world’s best.
However, the proposed facility investment of about £100 million at the Govan and Scotstoun shipyards, ostensibly confirmed in May 2015, will no longer proceed in the manner first envisaged.
So it is extremely concerning to note the National Shipbuilding Strategy does not contain any commitment to capital investment in even the secondary option to optimise the Clyde’s shipbuilding infrastructure to be “upper quartile” in global shipbuilding benchmarks.
This failure of vision for our shipbuilding industry risks undermining the long-term competitive position of the British shipbuilding industry
in terms of modern working practices.
Without a commitment to modernise the Clyde’s shipbuilding infrastructure to
be “upper quartile” in those global shipbuilding benchmarks and to focus all complex warship build, final assembly, testing and commissioning
at the established single UK centre of excellence on the Clyde, we risk undermining the UK’s long-term competitiveness.
The future of naval shipbuilding in Glasgow  remains fundamentally secure until the 2030s with the Type 26 programme.
However, the concerns raised by those within the industry about the lack of investment for the longer term are serious.
The new strategy does not  address the need for
a single centre of excellence or the infrastructure needed
to make such a centre world class.
It is now critical that both the Scottish and UK governments collaborate to recognise these flaws in the strategy and create a virtuous cycle that builds on the Clyde’s statusas the UK’s undisputed centre of excellence for complex warship design, build and integration, while positioning it to compete internationally.
It is not too late.

Mr Sweeney is a former production expert at BAE Systems on the Clyde

Glasgow's Evening Times, The Herald's sister paper, said the Clyde yards had been "Sold Down The River".


Evening Times reporter Holly Lennon spoke to workers. This is her story:

WORKERS at a Glasgow shipyard are fearing for their future after it was announced that their work will be split up across the UK.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has said work on the Type 31e frigate warship will be carried out across several shipyards, despite Glasgow currently working on the Type 26 frigates.
Billy McKay, 60, Unite convenor from Knightswood, described the move as a ‘total betrayal’.
“They promised that all the ships will be built on the Clyde, 17,073 people lost their job on that promise”, he explained.
“Type 26 frigates will keep the future going forward but the government have broken their promises. They said if we voted independence the shipbuilding would leave and be across the UK
but look what’s happening now.”
Stuart Johnstone,  an electrician, 69, from Glasgow, commented: “I’ll be retiring so it won’t affect me but for the young people it’s worrying. We’ve been building the Type 26 frigate here the whole time, so why not just keep doing it?”
Billy Keen, 58, a welder from Port Glasgow, added: “I don’t feel betrayed, everybody pays their taxes and they are entitled to whatever work the government give out.”
James Hall, 56, a health and safety advisor from Cardonald, believes the shipyards are being used to score political points.
He said: “I don’t feel betrayed. We’ve got work here for the next couple of generations. The problem is we’ll be sharing the work with other yards in the country but hopefully we’ll get some as well.
“Politicians have always used these yards to make political points but I feel quite content that the future is well secured for us here.”

Govan workers

Gary Cummings, a 55-year-old pipe welder from Pollok, commented: “I think it’s a good idea to share across the UK. If we’d gotten independence we probably wouldn’t be here in the first place so it’s a little bit of double standards from Sturgeon.
“We’ve just started the actual Type 26, we’ve got a contract for three of them and then maybe another five, but we’re basically guaranteed the rest.
“But type 31, I think we always knew it was going to go elsewhere.
“I don’t believe in keeping everything for the one yard. Politicians obviously want the best for their own but there’s other yards in the UK have got nothing.”