Royal Navy 'depleted by vicious cycle of retaining old ships'

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The Royal Navy fleet is being depleted by a "vicious cycle" of old ships retained beyond their sell-by date, an independent report has warned.

A review headed by Sir John Parker found that the procurement of naval ships takes too long from concept to delivery compared with other industries.

He concluded that fewer ships than planned are ordered too late, saying: "Old ships are retained in service well beyond their sell-by date with all the attendant high costs of so doing.

"This vicious cycle is depleting the RN fleet and unnecessarily costing the taxpayer. It needs to be broken."

Sir John, chairman of mining giant Anglo American, said there is a "vibrant" UK shipbuilding, marine and defence supply chain sector which the Ministry of Defence (MoD) should harness.

He called for a "sea change", with "pace and grip" from the Government so that shipyards across the UK can win work and create jobs.

He said the Government must drive cultural change in defence to inject "genuine pace" into the procurement process and get a clear grip over cost and time.

The MoD should lay out its plans for naval ships over the next 30 years, the report recommended.

Sir John suggested that work on warships should be shared among companies across the UK.

He said BAE Systems should build the Type 26 series, describing the defence giant as having the breadth of technical and engineering talent and the most recent experience of building sophisticated warships.

But he added that a new fleet of Type 31 naval frigates was urgently needed to maintain the Royal Navy's fleet numbers and to establish a UK exportable light frigate.

"There is no precedent for building two 'first class' RN frigates in one location," he said.

A separate lead shipyard or alliance would appear to be the best way forward for the new frigate to minimise risk, the report said.

SNP defence spokesman Brendan O'Hara said the UK Government must now end "unnecessary and worrying delays" in bringing forward a national shipbuilding strategy.

''The MoD told us the strategy - vital to our shipbuilding industry - would be complete by the Autumn Statement last week at the latest.

"We are now told it will be spring next year before we can see any firm plans and that means more unnecessary and worrying delays for the workers, families and communities that depend on shipbuilding.

"These concerns about another Westminster muddle will only be heightened by some of the recommendations in this report, with clear implications for yards on the Clyde in particular.

''Today's report is a distraction for shipyards and shipbuilding in Scotland, who deserve better than this."