FOR decades the Clyde shipbuilding industry has been navigating troubled waters.

An endless cycle of order announcements bringing relief to promises broken, plans abandoned and fears for the future.

The fortunes of the workforce ebbing and flowing with the decisions of the government and whims of the MoD and Treasury.


Backing for UK yards to get orders

The ship currently being built at the Govan yard is HMS Glasgow, the first of the Type 26 frigates.

Soon, steel will be cut for the second of the city class ships, HMS Cardiff.

The orders for the frigates, following on from the aircraft carrier programme, provided years of highly skilled work for thousands of men and women.

Crucially it has also supported a prestigious apprenticeship programme with BAE, the Govan and Scotstoun yard owners.

The order is for three Type 26 Global Combat frigates. Initially the Clyde was promised 13 of the frigates.

BAE were planning a massive investment in a state of the art ‘frigate factory” at Scotstoun on the north bank and considered closing the Govan operation to consolidate in one facility.

The investment announcement was seen as a huge victory for the industry, a commitment to a long term future with guaranteed orders.

Then the 13 was reduced to eight and five smaller type 31s. The clouds gathered once more over the Clyde and the only guarantee is three, which still secures work until the mid 2020s but not the sunshine on the smooth seas that was promised.

However, BAE is investing £100m in preparation for the frigate contracts ahead of talks on the other five to be built.


Historical pictures of the shipyards

There is also another battle looming.

Fleet Solid Support auxiliary ships for the Royal Navy could be built abroad as the UK Government fails to guarantee UK yards will get the work.

They are not being classed as warships which mean they need to be open to international competition.

The failure to designate the ships are warships have been ridiculed by politicians who want to safeguard the UK shipbuilding industry, the Clyde yards and the jobs.

Chris Stephens, SNP MP for Glasgow South West, which includes Govan shipyard, spoke this week at a shipbuilding strategy debate in Westminster.

He said: “To suggest that ships that are armed with naval guns are not warships is curious.

“These are warships. If it looks like a warship and acts like a warship, it is reasonable to assume that it is, in fact, a warship and not a civilian ship.”

The ships may be built at a cheaper cost if done abroad but that ignores the wider economic arguments, as well as national security, for building the ships in the UK.

Mr Stephens highlighted the 6500 jobs that would be supported by the ships.

He said that would mean from the cost of building the ships there would be almost £300m returned to the Treasury in tax from the workforce.


BAE to design ships for abroad

Paul Sweeney, Labour Glasgow North East MP, is a former shipyard employee and advocate of the industry.

He fears that the ships will be built in Korea if the non-warship designation is not changed.

The rationale for building abroad, he also says, is misguided.

He has said: “We must see the decision to tender internationally for what it is, a political choice not to support UK shipbuilding based on a flawed understanding of economics.”

Boris Johnson visited Govan shipyard a week ago on his voyage to becoming Prime Minister. He heaped praise on the workers, like others before him.

He and Jeremy Hunt, his rival for Downing Street have been asked in writing by the shipbuilding unions the Confederation for Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions on the Clyde for a commitment to support shipbuilding and specifically over on the Fleet Solid Support ships.

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They are still awaiting a response.

The communities of Govan and Scotstoun are not as heavily dependent on the shipyards with most workers travelling for further afield but they are nonetheless important.

And their contribution to the wider economy is enormous with business in the supply chain dependent on their orders.

It has come though many storms, survived periods when closure looked more likely and through the determination and skills of the workforce the industry has endured, changed course when required and continues to design and built world class vessels.

The yards provide work for 3000 men and women and many more in the supply chain.

Shipbuilding provides an iconic image of Glasgow’s industrial past but still has the skills and potential to be a key industry in the vision for in the city’s future.

There may only be two of them remaining but Glasgow’s Clyde shipyards are built to last.