Ministers should setup a shipbuilding college to boost British workers’ skills and exploit the UK’s maritime history, MPs recommend today.
Westminster’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Shipbuilding calls on the Government to “provide a steady drumbeat of work for UK shipyards” so staff are not lured away to other industries or rival countries when orders ebb.
It also urges ministers to “establish a Naval Shipbuilding College to organise vocational pathways for specific projects, organise bridging projects between major contracts, arrange placements for apprenticeships and graduates, and ensure there is throughput of qualified personnel for UK yards”.
The recommendation comes in a 12-page report, seen by the Mirror and published today, which raises fears vital skills could be lost when contracts finish.
UK firms are currently building four Dreadnought-class, nuclear-armed submarines and eight Type 26, City-class frigates, known as the Global Combat Ship.
Another class of light frigate, the Type 31, is planned and the Government has begun the process of ordering three 40,000-tonne Fleet Solid Support ships to resupply Royal Navy vessels at sea.
But MPs fear high turnover among staff could jeopardise deals or leave Britain relying on foreign labour.
The study highlights previous delays and cost overruns in bumper defence contracts, including for the Navy’s Astute-class hunter-killer submarines.
Labour MP Kevan Jones, a former Defence Minister who chairs the APPG, said: “In many historical cases and through many governments, shipyards and skills have been allowed to atrophy at the conclusion of contracts, under the misguided assumption that the gates can be reopened and the skills base reformed after periods of famine.
“Time and time again, this has proven to be a false option which the Government has nonetheless taken despite the immense difficulties in reforming a skills base prone to exodus at the conclusion of contracts, the huge regenerative outlay for industry in restarting programmes, and the delay all this causes to handing over crucial equipment to the Royal Navy.”
Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions general secretary Ian Waddell said:
“This report and its recommendations come at a vital time for the UK shipbuilding industry.
“It rightly concludes that the approach of successive governments has led to feast or famine and that as we come to the end of major programmes, skills are lost to the industry which cannot be replaced.
“Maintaining our skills base and identifying what skills we will need for the future will be crucial, but the Government must understand that it has a role to play, like our competitor countries, in providing the drumbeat of orders, as identified in the shipbuilding strategy, to give shipyards the confidence and certainty to invest in skills, facilities and people.”
GMB national officer Ross Murdoch said: “The UK’s shipyards produce the world-class vessels that are essential to our national security – but their future is under threat unless ministers grasp the nettle and promote jobs and skills.
“As this important report warns, contracts worth billions have been awarded without a clear plan to bring through the next generation of workers, while some orders have been sent overseas.
“Shipbuilding has a proud past and the sector can have a bright future, but the challenges of skills shortages and an ageing workforce need to be addressed today.
“The Prime Minister says that he wants to make the UK into a ‘shipbuilding superpower’ – he should start by listening to the workforce and acting on the recommendations of this report.”
A Ministry of Defence spokeswoman said: “As Shipbuilding Tsar, the Defence Secretary is committed to the regeneration of the UK’s maritime enterprise which will be boosted by the National Shipbuilding Strategy refresh later this year.
“The strategy will include a 30-year shipbuilding pipeline and outline how we will work with industry and across Government to support and develop the future skills across the enterprise.
“As outlined in the Defence Command Paper, shipbuilding investment will double over the life of this Parliament to more than £1.7billion, creating work and driving skills across the UK.”