Unions urge UK Government to fastrack defence programmes

Harry Lye 18 August 2020 (Last Updated August 18th, 2020 11:43)

The Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions has urged the government to not ignore nine ‘shovel-ready’ defence projects that it says would secure over 13,000 highly skilled jobs.

Unions urge UK Government to fastrack defence programmes
Boxer MIV at the 2019 Army Combat Power Demonstration (ACPD). Image: MOD/ Crown Copyright.

The Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions has urged the government to not ignore nine ‘shovel-ready’ defence projects that it says would secure over 13,000 highly skilled jobs.

The nine projects worth a combined £2.9bn that are part of the Ministry of Defence’s (MOD) equipment plan, but are either on hold or not due to be procured until 2025. The projects include the construction of new Royal Fleet Auxiliary support ships, upgrades to armoured vehicles and fighter jet projects.

The CSEU said that while the French and German governments were making ‘multi-billion’ investments in defence as part of their industrial response to the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, the UK had ‘no stated plans to bring forward defence equipment programmes’.

The CSEU is made up of four affiliated unions, Unite, GMB, Community and Prospect, which together represent over 100,000 members.

The German government is set to invest a further €1.5bn in defence as part of a €130bn targeted investment to support industry, while the French government has brought forward defence orders worth €300m.

France’s Assemble National has also asked French Service Chiefs to present a wishlist of equipment programmes expected to be worth up to €1.5bn per annum over several years.

Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions general secretary Ian Waddell said: “Boris Johnson called for shovel ready projects to help Britain weather the economic crisis. There are dozens of projects which have been budgeted for are in the pipeline and which can either be brought forward a couple of years or have additional orders added. This will boost the economy now when it needs it.

“We were promised that the economy would be levelled up through investment in our manufacturing sector. Protecting jobs and creating new ones will be by far the quickest way to get the country out of the economic crisis. The public will not understand why this is not happening”.

So far the UK Government has committed £82.2bn to support businesses affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The CSEU said that bringing forward its recommended projects would be ‘a drop in the ocean’ in terms of spend and would ‘maintain and create jobs which will provide tax income for the exchequer as well as boost consumer spending on the high street’.

Waddell added: “The Integrated Defence and Security Review is in danger of turning into the Dominic Cummings Review with the Prime Minister’s advisor wanting to buy equipment off the shelf from the US rather than design, build and maintain it in the UK.

“The danger is that the economy goes into such a nosedive that future defence budgets get reallocated and existing orders dry up and more jobs are put at risk.”

Of the nine programmes outlined, the Union identified six already in the process of being procured and three existing programmes that could benefit from new orders.

The six programmes the CSEU wants to be accelerated are:

  • The Fleet Solid Support Ships (FSS), which it says would support 2,500 jobs and is worth £500m a year. The three ships are seen as vital to the UK’s plans to deploy Carrier Strike groups and will keep the UK’s new aircraft carriers stocked with supplies whilst at sea.
  • Type 26 frigates, CSEU said that only three of the planned eight ships have been ordered. It said the government should order the next five now to secure 1,000 jobs, adding that the new order would be worth £100m a year.
  • Typhoon AESA Radar Upgrade. CSEU said the radar upgrade had been pushed back to post-2025 but that ordering it now would secure 600 jobs and be worth £100m a year.
  • Team Tempest, the UK’s project to develop a future combat air system. CSEU said bringing forward the second phase of the programme would secure between 2,500 to 3,500 jobs and be worth £150m a year.
  • Boxer Mechanised Infantry Vehicle (MIV). CSEU is calling for the government to double the production rate of the Boxer MIV, securing 1,250 jobs. This, the Unions said, would be valued at £125m a year.
  • AJAX and Warrior CSP. With AJAX underway, the CSEU called for production of Warrior CSP to be brought forward at a cost of £200m a year to safeguard 1,200 jobs.

The CSEU is also calling for the following three programmes to be extended:

  • Typhoon Tranche 3B/4. The CSEU has said that the UK could acquire 24-36 new Typhoons to replace tranche 1 jets already in service. This it said would cost £2.5-3bn over three-to-five years. Both Germany and Spain are acquiring new Typhoons as part of their pandemic industrial response.
  • Merlin Mk2 Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Helicopters. The CSEU said that the UK does not operate enough Merlins to fill the AWACS and ASW role. With an already running production line, the Unions advocated for adding eight to ten new helicopters at a cost of £500-£750m.
  • Boxer Variants. The UK is set to acquire four Boxer variants at present. The Unions are advocating that the UK Government order new variants to bolster UK involvement in the supply chain. The CSEU said this would cost £1.5-2bn over an eight to 10-year period.