Skillbase and capacity saved Clyde Shipyards says BAE

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  By Martin Kelly
 
The skills of workers based at the two BAE shipyards in Glasgow was the reason they will continue to build ships, the company which owns the yards has said.
 
Speaking on the day it was confirmed that 835 jobs are to go at the Govan and Scotstoun yards on the Clyde, BAE today confirmed that their decision to keep building ships in Glasgow was based on industry needs and not political pressure.

BAE’s Busines and Transformation Director Charlie Blakemore told the BBC that the decision to keep shipbuilding on the Clyde was “absolutely not” political and that the decision was a commercial one.

He said: “The Clyde has been chosen purely based on industrial grounds, all to do with capacity, capability and skill-mix.”

The comments followed confirmation that 835 jobs are to go at the two Clyde based yards after BAE confirmed a lack of orders had meant a restructuring of the business.  Today’s announcement was final confirmation of a process which began back in 2009 in agreement with the MoD.

At Portsmouth around 1000 workers – half of which are contractors – are to lose their jobs.

The announcement by BAE was brought forward by a day after reports on Tuesday suggested over 1000 jobs were under threat.

BAE also confirmed that its shipbuilding capacity would be confined to the Clyde with Portsmouth losing out.

With no shipbuilding capacity in England it means all future orders will now go to the two Glasgow Yards.  There was also a surprise announcement in the shape of three new offshore patrol vessels to be built at BAE’s Govan and Scotstoun yards in Glasgow. 

The order has been strategically announced in order to fill the gap when aircraft carrier work finishes in 2015.  In 2016 work on Type 26 Frigates will then commence which will guarantee work for several more years.

However the day has also seen Unionist politicians try to minimise the political damage the Clyde job losses have inflicted on the pro-Union campaign.  Shipbuilding on the Clyde has been at the core of arguments against a Yes vote with successive Westminster governments and Scottish Unionist MPs holding up the industry as a reason to vote No.

In the face of today’s announcement of job losses, Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael claimed today’s decision by BAE systems offered a “compelling reason” for Scotland remaining in the Union.

“What Scotland has got tonight though is a very good and compelling case for remaining part of the United Kingdom.” he told Radio Scotland.

The Scottish Secretary also claimed that a newly independent Scotland might lose work previously earmarked for the Glasgow Yards.  However with no shipbuilding capability left south of the border and comments from the company that Govan and Scotstoun offer the best business case, continuing this line of argument may prove difficult for Scotland’s pro-Union MPs.

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon insisted that the focus should be on those who had lost her jobs and that now was not the time to play politics.

In a statement she said: “The Scottish government will be working very closely with the company and with the trade unions, firstly to minimise the number of job losses, but also to work very hard with those affected to help them into alternative employment,”

Ms Sturgeon also defended the workforce against accusations from some Unionist MPs that that the yard had been saved by BAE only because Scotland was part of the UK.

Describing the Clyde as the best place to build future vessels, she added : “The investment that we’ve seen in the Clyde yards in recent years, the skill mix of the workers in the Clyde, make the Clyde the best place to build these ships – there’s no doubt about that.”

The Deputy First Minister repeated her backing for the workforce in a later interview and insisted that Scottish shipbuilding could still thrive in a competitive market by pointing to the example of Norway which had built over one hundred ships last year alone from the country’s forty two shipyards.

The Deputy First Minister’s sentiments were echoed by her Westminster colleague, MP Angus Robertson.

Responding to claims from Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael that the UK would find it “difficult” to award the contracts for the new Type 26 frigates to Scottish yards if there is a Yes vote next September, the SNP Westminster leader and Defence spokesperson said:

“It is quite absurd for Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael to make this suggestion.  As of today the UK Government has now agreed with BAE Systems that Govan and Scotstoun are the best and most effective locations to build the new generation of Type 26 ships.

“It would be impossible for a Westminster government to justify cutting off its nose to spite its face by deciding to move the work to somewhere which it officially states is less effective.”

Mr Robertson, who was heckled by Labour MPs as he tried to question UK Defence Secretary in the House of Commns, added: “And it is plain daft for a UK Government minister to say it would be difficult to have ships built in Scotland just because we exercise our democratic right to vote Yes, when the MoD has procured vessels from Korea.”

Labour MPs heckle Mr Robertson in the House of Commons