The Referendum on Separation for Scotland: Separation shuts shipyards - Scottish Affairs Committee Contents

3  Refit and maintenance- Rosyth

41.  The Ministry of Defence also awards contracts for the refit and maintenance of its warships. For example, HMS Portland, one of the Type 23 frigates, recently spent 50 weeks being refitted in Fife by Babcock at a cost of £27 million.[69] Such refitting work is very important to Rosyth. Raymond Duguid, from Unite, Rosyth, told the Committee:

Refit and ship repair is our core work; that is the bedrock on which we can build business, so we need that. [...] The only person we do refitting and repair for at the moment is the Royal Navy.[70]

Mr Duguid said the skills and facilities at Rosyth are not aimed towards refitting merchant vessels but rather Rosyth maintains "high-end, high-technology combative ships."[71]

42.  Peter Luff said the Ministry of Defence would apply the same rules for refit as for ship construction, namely:

We often focus on the construction of a particular platform or asset. Through-life maintenance and support are often of a greater value to the economy. We would not be able to maintain complex warships in a country where we could not guarantee our freedom of action. It is as though Scotland would disqualify itself from the maintenance of ships.[72]

He continued:

I do not see how we could maintain an aircraft carrier in a separate Scotland.[73]

43.  The next such contract to be awarded is for the two Queen Elizabeth Class carriers, could be as much as the construction costs and provide work for fifty years.[74] (The construction costs are now estimated at over £6.2 billion.[75]) The size and complexity of the carriers would necessitate different elements of the support package requiring different facilities. For example, the carrier would need to be rearmed from a munitions depot that has a jetty with a licence to handle munitions.[76] Part of the maintenance cycle would require a dry dock, but Portsmouth does not have a suitable dry dock for a 65,000-tonne carrier, that facility would have to be found in England or abroad.[77] The most expensive part of the support package is in supporting the combat systems and the technology associated with a complex warship, [78] and Mr Dunne told us that "Security will clearly play a part" in the decision around support to the carriers.[79]

Timing of the carrier support decision

44.  The Royal Navy is currently going through an assessment of the 'support package' for the carriers, with the decision where the carriers will be maintained being made "in about two years time".[80] Vice-Admiral Mathews explained that the decision might be staggered:

It will probably be a transitional first phase, where we will let an initial support phase, to understand the real requirements for supporting this new and very large carrier. So we will have the first ship at sea; we will sustain that through an initial transition phase; and then we will go into a much longer-term support contract thereafter, as the second ship comes into service. That is the sort of concept that we are looking at.[81]

45.  Mr Dunne said that the decision would be primarily driven by value for money criteria but that "Security will clearly play a part." At the same time he denied that the date of the referendum was influencing the decision as to where the carrier support and maintenance would take place:

The best I can say in helping to address your concern is that by the time we come to be supporting these vessels post the referendum, it would undoubtedly add to the uncertainty if Scotland were an independent country because they would be treated like other independent countries that are partners and allies if we were looking at a docking site external to the UK. They would not be able to benefit from our current position, which is that we would wish to do so within the UK.[82]

46.  At the moment, there are facilities in Scotland that are well placed to carry out the support work for the Queen Elizabeth Class carriers, and if successful, could guarantee work spread over fifty years. The same rules around limiting contracts to build warships within the UK on national security grounds also apply to aspects of the contract for refit and maintenance, where the UK would wish to preserve its freedom of action. The decision as to the support contract for the carriers similarly appears to be subject to the same uncertainty as that for the Type 26 frigates brought about by the referendum.

69   HMS Portland home to Plymouth after £27 million refit, 18 December 2012,  Back

70   Qq 120-122 Back

71   Q 125 Back

72   Q 391 Back

73   Q 392 Back

74   Q 2034 Back

75   NAO Report, Carrier Strike, HC 1092, 7 July 2011  Back

76   There are two in Scotland that would be suitable: Glen Douglas in Argyll and Crombie in Fife. Back

77   Cammel Laird in Liverpool was given to us as an example. Qq 2034-36 Back

78   Q 2035 Back

79   Q 2036 Back

80   Q 2034 Back

81   Q 2034 Back

82   Q 2036 Back

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Prepared 20 January 2013