A £1.5 billion contract to build Royal Navy fleet solid support ships (FSS) that has been opened to overseas shipyards must go to domestic firms if UK shipbuilding jobs are to be preserved, Unite has warned MPs.
At a parliamentary Defence Select Committee meeting yesterday (8 September), Unite told MPs that the FSS contract was a ‘litmus test’ on the sincerity of the government’s loudly trumpeted support for the UK’s shipbuilding industry.
Unite national officer Rhys McCarthy told MPs that it would be wrong for state-supported firms in other countries to be handed the Ministry of Defence contract, which could support up to 16,000 jobs, when the UK’s own shipbuilding industry is crying out for work.
He said, “We have a situation where one of the preferred international bidders is a Spanish state-owned company, receiving Spanish state aid, and it is an unfair disadvantage and we’ve seen it with other shipbuilding that’s gone on, with South Korea for example.
“Our members are not afraid of internal UK competition, particularly if it drives excellence. What we have concerns with, and it’s been shown with the FSS debacle, is international competition that damages our industrial base and the skills that go with it.
“We don’t want to lose sovereign capability and we think it’s a penny-wise and pound-foolish approach and as others have touched on it doesn’t appear to be a defence policy or a strategy.”
More widely, Unite is calling for more of the country’s annual £292 billion public procurement to be allocated to UK manufacturers.
From fleet support ships to car fleets, the decision to award contracts to the lowest international bidders is part of the same economic thinking which has fragmented manufacturing across ever more complex supply chains, seen the outsourcing of design and staff jobs, and drives the constant competition between workers in the same multinationals in a race to the bottom for investment.
In the immediate term Unite has also launched the SOS for Jobs campaign demanding a focused sector level extension, including within manufacturing industries, of the job retention scheme (JRS), which is set to end on 1 November.
Workers and Unite fear that without a change of heart from ministers a tide of job losses will engulf UK manufacturing as employers lose confidence in the future, with demand yet to return to pre-Covid levels.
The workers are further concerned that with competitor nations offering long-term support for their manufacturing base, UK jobs will disappear while our competitors in France, Spain, Germany, Netherlands, Ireland and even the US are protected.