Thursday, 7 November 2013

BAE Systems.

Lots in the news about BAE, Portsmouth, Govan & Scotstoun with the usual attendant scrutiny through the independence referendum eye glasses. I don't know anything about ship building but as usual, I have an opinion.

Here (for what its worth) is what I think.

BAE Systems Maritime is owned entirely by BAE Systems PLC. Its a pretty big set up being as it is the largest ship builder in Britain and one of the largest builders of warships in Europe. You'll know already from the news about the sites in Glasgow (Scotstoun and Govan) and of course the site in Portsmouth. They also run operations in Rosyth, a project management centre in Filton (near Bristol) and since 2011 when BAE Systems Submarine Solutions (your one-stop-shop for submersibles) was subsumed into BAE Systems Maritime - the submarine manufacturing facility at Barrow-in-Furness.

Team GB's £1.2B HMS Astute appears from between the doors of Barrow-in-Furness - home of the UK's main penis factory - eh - I meant nuclear submarine facility.

In all - the maritime side of BAE employs around 7000 people, 4400 of which in ship building activities. To break that down, 3400 in Glasgow, Rosyth and Filton; and a further 1200 in Portsmouth. In total, BAE will cut out 1775 jobs across these facilities - 940 at Portsmouth and 835 across Scotstoun, Govan, Rosyth and Filton. Ship building will end completely at Portsmouth although refitting and maintenance will continue.

First of all, any job loss on that scale is bad, it devastates towns and cities with primary and secondary effects, this shouldn't be a political football but as usual, in the current political climate, it is. Everything Westminster and Holyrood does is refracted through the lens of the independence debate and while some are blaming that on Scotland/The SNP/Alex Salmond (delete applicable) for having the referendum in the first place, that isn't really a logical position to take. I mean for a person to take this view (and a lot are) you'd have to accept two things; firstly that we (which ever way you lean) can ignore a completely defunct constitutional settlement which disadvantages all component nations of the UK and secondly; that the future of Scotland can be mortgaged for some boats that wouldn't even be ours if you believe unionist rhetoric.

Looking to the future, three OPV's* will be built as a stop gap measure in Glasgow shipyards until the plans for the 13 Type 26 frigates have 'matured', at which point, the Glasgow yards would continue with that work. The plans however won't be complete until after the referendum which means, if Scotland does vote yes, in line with Westminster's vow never to build warships 'abroad', those orders 'might' not go to Glasgow shipyards after all.

* This is an OPV or Offshore Patrol Vessel.
Yup, it sounds like blackmail to me as well - if not out & out blackmail then certainly bribery - vote no and you'll get the contract to build 13 Type 26 Global Combat Ship*, vote yes in 2014, while no one is saying you won't - nobody is saying you definitely will. (But do remember, the rUK doesn't build complex warships in a foreign countries, well, that's what they say anyway.)

*An artist's impression of a Type 26 Global Combat Ship.
All of this misses the point though. BAE own these ship yards and they only build warships. Like Grangemouth, this is where the balance between what is good for the people (and the country) butts heads with what is good for private enterprise. Norwegian companies built 106 ships in the previous 12 months - but they didn't just build warships - they built survey vessels, pipe laying vessels, cable laying ships, container ships, tankers and much more besides. UK big ship building on the other hand is held in thrall to the arms industry - and as we are seeing now - its not a great set up.

We can't be too naive about it, competition from Japan, Korea and other places is strong. Instead of attempting to compete, it seems successive Westminster governments haven't even tried - they've sat back and relied upon naval defence procurement and it seems to me - they've done it deliberately.

This isn't Scotland's fault - we have no control over this, nor is it BAE's - they're running a business. The blame sits squarely on Westminster's doorstep. Decades of failure to encourage and ensure diversified shipbuilding, in its place, an over reliance on financial services and city centre consumption. Why is it always the UK who can't compete in ship building? Why is it always UK yards who lose out to Korean or Norwegian yards?

This needs to be fixed, Westminster - fixated by shiny things that go bang made by BAE - clearly isn't the institution for the job. I don't work in ship building so its easy for me to sit here and tell those who do to stay the course or to switch over to a yes vote. No one in Scotland has any control over these issues, what we have is the fall out when it goes tits up. When Phillip Hammond etc has a brain fart in Westminster, it smells here in Scotland.

I have no idea if the type 26 orders would stay in Glasgow if a yes vote wins out, I hope though, we don't trade in a walk-on part in Britain's defence procurement plans for what I think will be a much brighter & more productive future for Scottish shipbuilding.

Similar to Grangemouth, without an accountable Scottish Government in control, the punchline will eventually end up being at Scotland's expense.


  1. As usual Pa, a great summing up.

    I'm so glad you do these things for us. it saves reader pages and pages of badly written and biased crap in the Independent or Telegraph.

    It seems to me that if Norway (a high cost nation) can afford to build it's own ships, Scotland can too.

    There will be a need for some for defence as I imagine the Uk will hold on to the ones we have already paid 10% of.

    Then we'll need supply and pipe laying and all things that Norway needs and has built in the last 12 months.

    I suspect we can keep the ship workers in work, and the rUK can get China to build theirs. After all England is going to give the Chinese access to their nuclear plants, why not their submarines?

  2. Thanks again Tris.

    The simplicity is for my own benefit, it annoys me when politicians and the media make a dogs dinner out of these stories knowing that it'll switch people off.

    After we all do the right thing and vote yes next year ;-) rUK will still get their warships built in Scotland by BAE, for them to do anything else would be so obviously churlish. I don't think residents of either country would stand for it.

    There will inevitably be the usual daft daily mail/UKIP readers bemoaning the lack of ship building etc, but they'll never be happy unless there is a return to empire.

    All this posturing from people like that terrible oaf Davidson etc is tawdry and ultimately pointless.

  3. Rather like Davidson himself then?

  4. Yup.

    Can't argue with that, he's not even bothering to cover it up any more.


Thanks for comment as always and I apologise if you have to jump through any hoops to do so. Its just that, I'm still being spammed by organisations who are certain I can't get it up or when it is up its not big enough or that I don't have anyone to get it up for.

Who knew blogging could be so bad for ones self-confidence?