Labour would protect Scottish shipbuilding jobs – shadow defence minister

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Shipbuilding jobs in Scotland will be protected under a Labour government, the party’s shadow defence minister has said.

John Healey addressed concerns raised by Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Committee last week after it emerged the UK Government had issued a £1.6 billion contract to construct three naval support ships to an international consortium.

The decision will see some of the building work take place at the Navantia shipyard in Cadiz, Spain, and MPs on the committee urged the UK Government to provide “greater clarity” on where future contracts for naval vessels will be placed in the future.

The Scottish Affairs Committee has asked Defence Secretary Ben Wallace to explain whether the accepted contract was the cheapest.

It stressed opting for alternative bids from UK firms would have supported “more jobs in the UK and Scotland in particular”.

“The Scottish [Affairs] Committee is right to ask those questions, especially in light of the fact that the first big test of the Government’s so-called shipbuilding strategy has led the Defence Secretary placing an order for naval support ships, not in UK yards, but giving it to a Spanish firm.”

The Ministry of Defence spent £1.11 billion on shipbuilding in Scotland in 2020-21 – supporting some 7,700 jobs in the industry.

But the committee report said “the Scottish shipbuilding industry should not be given cause to doubt that it will have a consistent order book in the future, so long as it continues to deliver on its commitments to its Government customers”.

A shift in approach from the UK Government means it is “no longer the default position that warships will be designed and built fully in the UK”, the committee said – adding that this is “of concern to some in the Scottish military shipbuilding sector”.

Last year, the Westminster committee also heard concerns that the Scottish shipbuilding industry would suffer if Scotland became independent of the UK.

He said the concerns raised by Professor Keith Hartley, a former UN consultant and senior defence economist, that there was “no future” in Scottish naval shipbuilding with independence, were “spot on”.

He said: “The Scottish Affairs Committee are right to point to the big economic consequences and the big security consequences of any arguments for a separate Scotland in the future.”

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