Friday 11 May 2018 / 12:07 PM Business / Defence / Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn full speech on supporting UK shipbuilding

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Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Labour Party, speaking in Govan, Glasgow today, said:

In 1890 this brilliant building was constructed at the height of Glasgow’s success as the shipbuilding and engineering capital of the world. It was designed to showcase the incredible innovation and craftsmanship of Clyde-built industry.

And this great boardroom has played host to some historic moments over the years.

In 1971 Jimmy Reid and Jimmy Airlie were locked in negotiations with shipyard managers and the government to save the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders from collapse, ensuring that there was a future for this great industry.

So it is particularly inspiring to speak here today in a building that for a decade lay derelict during the early years of this century when the shipyard closed it down.

A symbol of industrial decline, now a symbol of an industry reborn, as vital to our economic success as ever.

I’d like to pay tribute to the work of Pat Cassidy and Govan Workspace social enterprise who had the vision to regenerate this wonderful building.

Indeed one of Labour’s newest MPs, Paul Sweeney, played a vital role in restoring this building as a young graduate in the shipyards.

So historically, shipbuilding has thrived across the UK and has the potential to do so again.

Workers in UK shipyards, from Plymouth and Glasgow to Belfast, share a proud tradition of building some of the best ships in the world.

Unfortunately, the Conservative government is currently trashing that tradition by offering up the Ministry of Defence’s most recent contract for three new Fleet Solid Support Ships to overseas companies to be built elsewhere.

That decision is wrong.

Today, we are calling on the Government to guarantee that these three new ships for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary will be built in domestic shipyards.
Building these ships in Britain would benefit those working in and supporting our world-class shipbuilding industry.

Over 6,500 workers could be employed through this contract, 1,800 of them in shipyards.

Decisive public intervention in support of this vital industry would protect it from anti-competitive practices by overseas firms and other states.
The government can change course and stop the continued, gradual destruction of British shipbuilding.

The Government knows the benefits of naval vessels being built in the United Kingdom.

It is why Royal Navy ships are always built in domestic shipyards as an essential move for national security, as well as our economy.

In doing so the Ministry of Defence is making good use of European Law, with Article 346 of the Lisbon Treaty allowing for almost unlimited freedom of action over defence procurement.

But if the government is willing to extend this courtesy to Royal Navy vessels we see no reason why it should not be extended to ships of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary too.

After all the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, which is owned and run by the Ministry of Defence, plays a crucial role across the globe: providing operational and logistical support to the Royal Navy, as well as the other armed services, transporting personnel, equipment, ammunition, fuel, as well as other essentials which our armed services rely on.

Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships do clearly therefore come under the provisions of Article 346 of the Lisbon Treaty with absolutely nothing, apart from the decisions of government ministers, stopping the production of the three new ships in domestic shipyards.

The Conservatives’ argument is that international competition is necessary to ensure competitiveness within the UK shipbuilding sector.

But, as everyone knows, fair competition requires a level playing field.

We don’t have a level playing field when huge global economies, such as China subsidise their shipbuilders by an estimated 13-20% between 2012 and 2013, and companies such as Daewoo, who recently completed building four British tide class tankers, receive a bailout of £2 billion in 2017 from the South Korean government.

The British government must now step up to the plate and do its part to protect our economy, jobs and working people.

By refusing to help our industry thrive the Conservatives are continuing their historic trend of hollowing out and closing down British industry.
Over the course of the 1980s under the Tories 75,000 jobs were lost in UK shipyards, leaving just 32,000 remaining.

Our shipyards used to produce half of all new ships worldwide. Our current market share is now less than half a per cent.

The Tories seem hell-bent on accelerating and deepening this industrial decline.

The next Labour government will use public contracts as part of our bigger plans to upgrade our economy.

Don’t listen to anyone who says we can’t build things in Britain and that a casino economy, which produces little but soaring inequality and insecurity, is our only future.

Shipbuilding is not a lame duck and can have a high tech, high skilled and exciting future right here in the UK.

With jobs that pay on average 45% better than the average for all jobs in the UK its high skills profile puts it alongside aerospace and other engineering sectors.

We can make sure that happens, but only if we reject the Tories’ outdated free market obsession that gives the whip hand to out-of-control multinational companies, and doesn’t care about the everyday needs and wishes of workers and consumers.

This FSS contract alone could offer opportunities for 450 new apprentices who want to learn new skills, and almost five thousand jobs in the wider supply chain on top of the shipyard jobs, and the additional employment it could create in local economies.

The GMB trade union along with Unite the Union, the two major unions representing shipbuilding workers, estimates the total shipbuilding workforce are paid £1 billion annually, £238 million of which is returned to the Exchequer in taxes, money which goes directly back into our NHS and our children’s schools, and is money that would be lost if the government sent this shipbuilding contract overseas.

The Government claims that it is overseeing a ‘renaissance’ in British shipbuilding.

But Scottish employers have pushed through one set of redundancies after another in recent years.

Our proposal would both sustain existing shipbuilding and supply chain jobs, as well as create new ones right here in Scotland and across the UK.

And it’s clear that change is needed.

The current way of doing things just isn’t working for industry, for shipbuilding workers or for taxpayers.

Today, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee released a damning report on the failures of Ministry of Defence procurement.

This new report highlights severe mismanagement at the top of this Conservative government, revealing that the Ministry of Defence cannot afford to buy the equipment it says is needed to fully support the armed services.

The Ministry of Defence could be as much as £21 billion, yes, £21 billion, short of the funding it needs to satisfy its current Equipment Plan.

This disturbing information was hidden from the public, unaccountable to Parliament.

With this kind of negligence at the heart of government, and the Ministry of Defence’s history of poor accounting, there is simply no reason why we should believe the claim that international tendering for these ships is the best value for money for the taxpayer.

Shipping the work overseas is a short sighted approach and a false economy that harms jobs and undermines industry.

Not only does it lead us not to invest in crucial industrial sectors such as engineering, but as the report states, it could also leave us unable to respond to potential security threats or humanitarian disasters.

Because these vessels and others like them have vital potential humanitarian uses on top of their central mission of support for the military.

In 2015 for instance, RFA Argus was deployed to Sierra Leone with crucial aviation and medical supplies to help tackle the Ebola Crisis.

Our country, along with others, played an important role to help those in need.

We shouldn’t underestimate people’s desire and capacity to step up and help others in times of desperate need.

And alarmingly, climate change appears to be increasing the frequency of natural disasters with the incidence of droughts, floods and hurricanes increasing year on year.

Britain must have the capacity to respond to these events at home and also to help abroad.

We must maintain our maritime capabilities to respond both to humanitarian emergencies and military threats.

And while we are here, on the banks of the Clyde, let us never forget the reason shipbuilding in our country has even survived is due to the collective action of shipyard workers themselves.

It has been shipbuilders themselves, most famously in the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders’ work-in of 1971, who have fought to give this industry a future.

This Conservative government should heed the lessons of history and support the industry.

We cannot afford to give in to short termism, trying to save a quick buck by trying to get our vital Ministry of Defence fleet at a knock-off rate, only to end up paying the cost in the longer-run.

We have to be serious about investing for the future.

We must not lose the talent of these highly skilled ship building workers and engineers.

We must use this opportunity to work with Unite the Union and the GMB union to create as many apprenticeship opportunities as possible.

Because new high wage, secure jobs mean new opportunities for young people across the UK.

It is exactly the type of employment that’s fit for the 21st century.

Instead of subjecting working people to uncertainty about their future, as the government is doing, we must invest in communities’ and people’s futures.

So the choice is now with the government. Do they stick to their outdated and failed dogma, and risk the future of jobs and opportunities by building these ships overseas. Or do they do what’s right, by guaranteeing that this contract, and others like it, go to British shipyards, securing jobs and encouraging investment for the future.

We know what Labour would do. It’s not too late for the government to reverse this decision and build these ships at home.