New Navy ships to be built in Belfast and Devon shipyards under £1.6bn deal

Harland and Wolff in Belfast is set to benefit from a major jobs boost after the Ministry of Defence announced a preferred bidder for a £1.6bn contract.

The contract will see final assembly for the three Royal Navy support vessels - each the length of two Premier League football pitches - take place at the Belfast shipyard.

The Ministry of Defence said it will create 1,200 new jobs in UK shipyards and hundreds more in the supply chain. Around 900 are thought to be in Northern Ireland.

The majority of the blocks and modules for the ships will be constructed at Harland & Wolff in Belfast and Appledore in Devon, with some components manufactured at centres in Methil in Fife and Arnish on the Isle of Lewis.

They will be built to an entirely British design by Bath-based BMT which forms the rest of the Team Resolute consortium along with Navantia UK.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the announcement was a "significant boost" to the UK shipbuilding industry.

Ben Wallace at Harland & Wolff.

"By selecting Team Resolute, the Ministry of Defence has chosen a proposal which includes £77 million of investment into the UK shipyards, creating around 2,000 UK jobs, and showcasing cutting-edge British design," he said.

"Building on ambitions laid out in the National Shipbuilding Strategy, this contract will bolster technology transfer and key skills from a world-renowned shipbuilder, crucial in the modernisation of British shipyards."

The contract is subject to final Treasury and ministerial approval. Harland & Wolff last built a ship almost 20 years ago.

The Royal Fleet Auxiliary's three 216-metre Fleet Solid Support (FSS) ships will supply munitions, stores and provisions to the Navy's aircraft carriers, destroyers and frigates deployed at sea.

However, build work will also take place at Navantia's shipyard in Cadiz, Spain, in a collaboration the MoD said would allow for key skills and technology to be transferred from a world-leading auxiliary shipbuilder.

John Wood, Group chief executive of Harland & Wolff said: "By selecting Team Resolute, the Ministry of Defence has secured £77m of investment into the Harland & Wolff shipyards and created 2,000 UK jobs. “I am pleased to see UK Government seize the last opportunity to capture the skills that remain in Belfast and Appledore before they are lost for good and ensure the survival of our Belfast shipyard for future generations as a UK Government national strategic asset.”

East Belfast MP Gavin Robison welcomed the announcement.

He said: “This is fantastic news for Belfast and Northern Ireland as a whole, but primarily for Harland & Wolff and everyone associated with the company.

"As part of Team Resolute they have pledged to invest £77million in shipyard infrastructure to support the British shipbuilding sector. Harland & Wolff’s Belfast operation will be heavily involved throughout the process through both construction and final assembly stages.

"The majority of work will take place across the UK and I am delighted that workers in Belfast will be playing a key role in delivering these state of the art vessels for the Royal Navy and contributing to our nation’s defence capabilities.

"Harland & Wolff has been part of some of the most significant chapters of our history. However, today’s announcement reminds us that it remains a significant national asset, as one of only three UK shipbuilders suitable for major MOD contract.

"The shipyard will continue to be a key asset for Belfast and Northern Ireland for a long time to come.” Labour and trade unions, however, expressed anger that the entire project was not being done in the UK.

Shadow defence secretary John Healey said: "This decision is a betrayal of British jobs and British business.

"Ministers have rejected a big opportunity to boost our UK economy and strengthen our sovereign industrial capability at a time when threats are increasing."

Mike Clancy, general secretary of the Prospect union, said it was "a terrible, short-sighted decision" and a missed opportunity to support the whole of UK shipbuilding.

"At a time when the economy is struggling it is short-sighted in the extreme to go with a bid that takes most of the high-value work and intellectual property overseas," he said.

"Spain will be delighted with the Government's approach to levelling up.

"It is now essential that the Government does all it can to maximise the small amount of work going to UK yards."

GMB national officer Matt Roberts called for reassurances from ministers that UK shipyards would get the work they needed to prosper.

"It's only a few short years since Harland & Wolff, set to benefit from this bid, was occupied by workers to save the yard from closure," he said.

"Ever since the last RFA order debacle from the Tory Government back in 2012, we have campaigned for all of the build work on FSS to be done in the UK and for each shipyard in every nation and region of the country to get decent packages of work from this big Government order.

"Ministers finally concede a 'significant' amount of the FSS work will be done at home.

"The problem is that they don't define 'significant' by volume or value and they don't tell us what guarantees or enforceability there is.

"Due diligence must be rigorous."

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