Foreign firms asked to play part in building new Navy ships
FOREIGN companies are being invited to take part in early plans to build new ships to support the Royal Navy, going against recommendations of the National Shipbuilding Strategy and angering maritime unions.
The Ministry of Defence has asked potential suppliers to take part in “market engagement” about the estimated £1bn contract to build three Fleet Solid Support (FSS) ships that will help keep the Navy’s new aircraft carriers at sea, providing them with stores such as ammunition and food.
The “prior information notice” on the MoD contracts website adds that it is open to “UK and international suppliers or consortiums offering a UK or international ship design, who are capable of either priming, providing a design and/or integrating or building FSS ships”. The process is intended to help work out the contract before entering into negotiations with industry about details for construction of the 40,000ton vessels.
Three years ago a government-commissioned report by industry veteran Sir John Parker into shipbuilding called for an end to “boom and bust” cycles for UK shipbuilding.
One of Sir John’s recommendations was a steady stream of work to end expensive scaling up and down of yards as naval programmes ended with no more work in sight. Building the FSS ships in the UK was seen as one way of doing this.
However, the Government has argued because the FSS are part of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, they are not warships – which have to be UK-built.
Ministers have also said that EU procurement rules mean the contract has to be offered internationally.
Ian Waddell, general secretary of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions (CSEU), said: “We were told repeatedly by government that there had to be an international competition to build these ships because of EU state aid rules. Well, we’ve left the EU so why are international suppliers being invited to tender for this project?”
FSS could also be used to help stimulate the UK economy, with state-funded projects being directed to British industry, the CSEU said.