MPs pressed their case to Ministry of Defence officials during a tense hearing in Westminster
By Ben Glaze
Mirror Online – 10 October 2018
Defence officials came under mounting pressure to build three new Royal Navy supply ships in Britain. MPs urged civil servants to pick a UK company for the £1billion contract for three Fleet Solid Support vessels for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary.
Unions have backed calls for the bumper contract to be handed to a British shipyard – and Labour has pledged to build the boats in the UK. But defence chiefs insisted the deal should go out to competition, meaning foreign firms can bid for the order.
Earlier, Tory ministers admitted they had ruled out a competition to build a new RAF plane and planned to hand the deal to US manufacturer Boeing. The Ministry of Defence has started talks with the firm for new E-7 Wedgetail airborne early warning and control (Awacs) planes to replace the ageing E-3 Sentry aircraft.
However, senior civil servants faced questions over why they wanted a competition for the ships deal, which could mean British workers missing out, but not over the planes. Of the 11 firms currently in the running for the Fleet Solid Support ships contract, "at least one is British", MPs were told.
Rounding on officials, Commons Defence Committee chairman and senior Tory MP Julian Lewis said:
"When it comes to the Fleet Solid Support ships, which there are many good reasons why we would like to see them constructed in this country, there seems to be resistance to that proposal — a determination to have a competition, even though it might not be a fair competition."
He believed snubbing Scotland's Rosyth yard would see it stripped of skilled workers, potentially jeopardising the future refit of the Navy's flagship aircraft carrier.
"If this work isn't kept in the UK, in particular if it's not done at Rosyth shipyard, how will Rosyth remain ready and capable for the expected refit of the new aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth in 2030, if it doesn't have this work or something very similar to keep it going?"
said Mr Lewis. He feared foreign firms subsidised by their governments could undercut British rivals. But the MoD's director general for finance, Cat Little, told MPs the department's biggest concern was "what will deliver the greatest value for money".
Ministers have decided the vessels, which will go into battle alongside the carrier, frigates and destroyers, are not warships. Classifying them as warships would mean they could be built exclusively in Britain. Identifying them as non-warships – because they do not have "offensive" weapons, only defensive – means the work must be offered abroad under EU rules.
Labour MP Ruth Smeeth pointed out Brexit takes place in less than six months. Fellow Labour MP John Spellar said the Treasury would benefit from tax revenue ploughed into public coffers if the work was carried out in the UK.
"There will be a significant return,"