Built in Britain: Labour Reportedly Rolls Out Test for Defence Projects Amid Row Over Supply Ships
09:20 GMT 24.08.2020
A partisan row has emerged over the Ministry of Defence's lucrative contract to build three new auxiliary ships for the Royal Navy, with foreign shipbuilders involved in the bidding. Labour insists the contract should go to a domestic manufacturer.
The Labour Party has renewed its calls on Boris Johnson's government to award the $1.9 billion contract for new support ships to British shipyards.
"For five years, defence ministers have dithered over this decision when it's a no-brainer to build these vital new ships in Britain," Shadow Defence Secretary John Healey has said, as quoted by The Mirror.
He added that "no other major military nation has ordered naval support ships from foreign yards" and that the Tories are "selling Britain short by not putting the work into UK shipyards".
The Mirror reports, without providing details, that Labour has unveiled a "Built in Britain" test for defence projects to make sure they go to domestic manufacturers.
The Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions has supported the idea, saying it should be applied to every major taxpayer-funded industry project.
In May 2018, the Ministry of Defence announced a contract tender for up to three Fleet Solid Support (FSS) ships to supply the Royal Navy with dry stores like ammunition, food, and spares.
The 40,000-tonne vessels were required to have 250,000 cubic feet of cargo space, a cruising speed of 19 knots (33 km/h), and ship-to-ship transfer capacity of five tonnes per load. They do not qualify as warships and as such can be built using foreign shipyards.
The FSS project is expected to support over 2,500 jobs, apart from the broader effect of sustaining the country's industrial base.
The contract was abruptly suspended in November 2019. The MoD said at the time it was "clear that the current approach will not deliver the requirement", raising hopes among British shipbuilders that it would stay within the UK.
The move came the day after the ministry released a sweeping review of the National Shipbuilding Strategy, in which prominent businessman Sir John Parker recommended considering UK-only competition for "future defence-funded vessels".
Last month, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said that the government "should support [British shipyards] as best we can and make sure our Navy get some great British-made kit."
However, the MoD in August left the door open to foreign bidders, which include the Spanish state-owned shipbuilder Navantia and Japan Marine United Corporation.
A consortium of British companies vying for the contract consists of Babcock, BAE Systems, Cammell Laird and Rolls-Royce.
An update on progress in review is expected this autumn.
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