Union warns against shipyard redundancies amid delay to Navy frigate work


A union official has warned that shipyard workers will not accept any redundancies as a result of the delay to eight new Royal Navy frigates.

Duncan McPhee, Unite convener at BAE Systems' Scotstoun yard, said it will be difficult to retain jobs if the delay to the Type 26 frigates rolls on indefinitely but that the MoD is duty bound to maintain a standing qualified workforce.

The MoD's chief executive for equipment, Tony Douglas, told MPs on Wednesday that no start date had yet been set because the design of the warships was only 60% complete.

The MoD has denied that a shortage of money is behind the delay, but Mr McPhee said: "There's no doubt about it - it is a financial situation."

He told BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme: "Money has been removed from the programme and that money has to be reinstated to get that contract started in a more realistic timetable.

"There's going to have to be a political decision to reinstate money to that programme to get it done, because it's a false economy.

"The further they delay it, the costs increase, so it makes no sense."

Former first sea lord Admiral Lord West said last month that cutting steel had been put back from 2016 because "there's almost no money available this year, and we are really strapped next year".

Defence Committee chairman Julian Lewis warned that delays could end up costing money, as the operating life of the Type 23 craft the frigates are replacing may have to be extended.

Mr McPhee said: "We have the workforce geared up for this programme and that workforce will remain.

"It means that we are going to have to do a lot of things between the company, moving different work packages about, keeping people at Rosyth maybe longer than we thought working on the aircraft carriers, maybe having to transfer people down to Barrow for the submarine programme.

"So we will keep the jobs... the one thing the trade unions and the workforce will not be accepting is any redundancies. We have been through our redundancy programme and we won't entertain any more of that.

"It can be done but it will be difficult. It just means that people will have to work away from their base sites in Glasgow, which is not ideal, it does add cost to things, but that will be the price of having to keep them because, at the end of the day, under the terms of the business agreement that the company has with the MoD, we must retain a workforce that is capable of building complex naval ships."

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon accused the MoD of breaking a promise it made to shipyard workers ahead of the independence referendum.

SNP defence spokesman Brendan O'Hara said an indefinite delay "would be an utter betrayal to those workers".

Mr McPhee said: "It's a very serious problem as it has given us workload issues, obviously, but I wouldn't say it was a betrayal. It would be a betrayal if the contracts were cancelled or given to someone else."

He said he has no regrets about endorsing Better Together in 2014.

He said: "Our major customer - in fact our only customer at the moment - is the UK MoD, as I said at the time, unless an independent Scottish government could order ships of the same amount and size."