By Karen Clark
Thousands of shipyard jobs in Scotland might be lost after it has emerged that work due to begin on building two aircraft carriers may be delayed because of the current economic climate. Work was set to begin in the spring of 2009 for the two 65,000 tonne aircraft after the contract was signed in July this year.
The warships, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, would be the biggest ever built in the UK and work is being shared between four shipyards at Govan and Rosyth in Scotland and Portsmouth and Barrow-in-Furness in England. The contract also effectively saved Rosyth Dockyard from closure and would create an estimated 1,600 jobs for the area.
The Ministry of Defence has said it is reviewing all major projects in a cost cutting exercise as it attempts to make savings in the midst of the credit crunch. The defence ministry has said, “The MoD is looking at all its major equopment programmes over the next 10 years, with a view to bearing down on costs and making sure the frontline troops are being properly supported.”
Now there are fears in the yards as job security is slipping away. Willie Rennie, the Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for Dunfermline who is also defence spokesman for the party at Westminster, said: “If this is just an efficiency drive it would be welcomed, but if they’re talking about slashing the contract there would be fury at the yards.”
When the contract was announced in March, the current First Sea Lord of the Royal Navy, Admiral Sir Jonathon Band announced that he would resign in front of a Commons committee if it did not go ahead.
However, Commander Peter Adams of HMS Caledonia thinks that the media is being too quick to say that jobs are under threat because “nothing has been confirmed to me by the navy and I don’t know anything more other than what is being said in the newspapers.”
Apprentice welder, Gavin McKeeman 23, working at Rosyth Dockyard backed this up by saying, “My gaffer hasn’t been told anything for certain. The MoD would maybe have to supply work to keep the yard going during any delay. The rumour is two years. We’ve already cut the first pieces of steel. VT Portsmouth, BAE Govan and BAE Barrow will have started too.”
Ian Davidson, the Labour MP whose Glasgow South West constituency includes the Govan yard, cautioned against panic. “Even if there is a delay with the aircraft carriers, it’s not necessarily a bad thing so long as the yards are kept occupied,” he said.