This government needs to do something Tories aren’t good at – find new jobs for shipbuilders

6th November, 2013 11:13 am

“It’s just a rumour that was spread around town, by the women and children, soon we’ll be shipbuilding.”

So it looks like it’s curtains for shipbuilding in Portsmouth. That the port matters to the town barely needs explaining – it’s in the name for god’s sake. The loss of shipbuilding will be a devastating blow. Hundreds of skilled jobs will go – and with the loss of an entire industry and high unemployment many may struggle to find alternative work.

The cranes will be sold off – perhaps to India or China where ships can be built far cheaper – and the docks will become shopping centres, call centres, warehouses or bars and cinemas. And few of the jobs created by the service sector will go to those who have lost their jobs in the yards.

portsmouth shipyard

It’s a familiar story to those in regions where shipbuilding has already disappeared. I remember repeated articles in the North East about the success story of the Metrocentre shopping complex, bringing (often minimum wage, long hours and low skill) jobs to the area. Meanwhile, the Swan Hunter yards went into a slow, terminal decline. Once the North East was one of the great shipbuilding areas in the world. Not anymore.

But if the loss of an industry is bad enough, the failure to provide alternative employment for highly skilled workers is even worse. It can leave a generation with cutting edge experience and a huge knowledge of their field left out of work – unable to get anyone to take them on in the low skill/low wage jobs that replace heavy industry, and little attempt made by government or business to harness their skills for the good of the country.

Miners, shipbuilders, steelworkers. You name it – successive governments have watched them lose their jobs and done little to help them. It’s the “cost of doing business”, it’s “modernity”, it’s the global race to the bottom writ large.

So what this government should do doing today – instead of being drawn into a debate about Portsmouth vs Glasgow, is working out how best to ensure the hundreds of skilled workers from the Portsmouth shipyards and the hundreds more whose jobs relied on them can best put their skills to use for the good of the country. How we can use engineers, craftsmen and welders to build the industries of the future and keep these vital skills in the UK.

Because that’s how we’ll win the global race – not by closing a shipyard, building a call centre and a TGI Fridays on it and calling it progress…

“It’s all we’re skilled in, we will be shipbuilding…”

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  • Colin McCulloch

    This is possibly your finest piece of LL, Mark. I agree with every single word.

  • Steve Stubbs

    As long as they are real jobs – fine. As the man says ships can be built far cheaper elsewhere. So lets concentrate on jobs that cannot be exported, and not rush forward orders for warships that we do not need (like the aircraft carriers who will not have any aircraft).

    • BillFrancisOConnor

      ‘Real’ jobs – like hedge fund managers and investment bankers you mean?

      • The_Average_Joe_UK

        Do you know you can ignore this industry entirely. Why don’t you start a multinational Bill, be successful and employ 100,000 people on the living wage? You can out- compete the nasty capitalists. Just a question.

        • BillFrancisOConnor

          For your information I have run my own business.

      • Steve Stubbs

        Well you closet Tories might like such jobs, but I was thinking more of high tech engineering jobs. Most digital stuff nowadays is built by robots, not people. It is those jobs, such as manufacture of robots, their maintenance, their programming; and the research that goes into the digital revolution I am thinking of. Cut out the Media Studies, Golf Course Management and Medieval English degrees and concentrate your universities on what the county needs, engineers and scientists, mathematicians and other skills that actually generate wealth for redistribiution.

  • swatnan

    If we’re against the Arms Industry then Mark is right to say create new jobs in more ethical industries. We’re going to have to face this issue anyway when it comes to ditching Trident. Jobs will go, but create preferably in new manufacturing industries and retrain the workforce.

    • JoeDM

      Jobs for all in the Tofu Mines and the Nut Roast factories of Islington !

  • treborc1

    In 2007 we were the sixth biggest ship builder for tonnage sadly it was mostly for war ships today in 2012 we are so far down the list I cannot find us.

    I did find us just below Poland Italy and America was below us, but when you look at Tonnage we produce it’s way to small for a country which once built some of the greatest ship around, we cannot even built our own Queen Elizabeth anymore.
    We spend ages looking at banking and the financial sector we forgot the manufacturing industry and we are still looking at banking to be the cream of the UK

    The top 5 are now Korea, China, Japan, Philippines, Vietnam,who now have the most tonnage.


    The Royal Navy has chosen South Korean firm Daewoo for a £452m deal to build four new fuel tankers.

    The 37,000-tonne Military Afloat Reach and Sustainability (MARS) tankers will allow the Royal Navy to refuel at sea.

    The reason for not building the ship here was taken due to costs, surely that cannot be the reasons we have not had any strikes in our ship yards for a long time and surely we are still good enough to build ships on time.

    In the end it was simple close the one in Scotland annoy the Scots and maybe they’d vote for independence.

    But not forgetting the battle we had to build the carriers here with Labour speaking about France building them it was lucky I think we had an elections coming up.

    In the end if you only build wars ship here and a few for the Oil industry and you do not modernize then sadly we will never keep up with other countries.

    • rwendland

      For the last major naval ship class we built, the hugely expensive Type 45 destroyer, a billion+ per ship after a 29% overrun, we built sections of it in 3 yards (Portsmouth, Govan, and Scotstoun). Then moved the sections by barge to Scotstoun to be welded together. I’m not certain this was a crazily uneconomic way to build ships, for political reasons, but that seems very likely. Seems little prospect of building even Navy ships economically without changes.

      • treborc1

        We can build anything we can do it just as cheap, the problem is of course if your site is not modern then it will give up break down and people have to wait for repairs, we had one transformers which broke down three or four times a day, we asked for a new one and were told patch it up then one day it blew up and we waited three weeks for a new one, those three weeks we played cards in the canteen, but because we could not do the job the whole site became back logged, within a week the whole site was sitting down waiting, what did they do they moved an old transformer to try and replace the other old one and that blew up.

        I’ve spent half of my life working in ship yards and coal mines and factories where you would be told can you patch it up, the biggest equipment I had was a roll of insulation tape.

        we have always done it keep it going for as long as you can patch it up it was the same when I did a contract at coal mines or anywhere else, can you fix it patch it up do it.

      • Hamish Dewar

        If there is to continue to be a stake in ship-building, the focus should be on cruise liners and luxury yachts. Might have to cut down on the level of plush compared with the warships though.

  • Hamish Dewar

    Invest in energy: Wind and wave turbines for the long-term, oil-rigs for the short-term.

    • rwendland

      Now that the govt has decided to invest (using electricity customer’s money) in hugely expensive nuclear power, there seems a poor prospect of a large off-shore wind/wave energy industry. When you take account of the fact nuclear is offered a 35-year CfD deal when off-shore wind is offered just 15-years, the price offered to EDF for Hinkley C is similar to what off-shore wind can currently be built for. And the prospect is higher that costs will drop for off-shore wind, whereas nuclear costs seem on an upward trajectory.

      If the high EDF nuclear electricity price is offered to other companies, my list of probable/possible new nuclear is:

      6.8 GW: 4 EDF EPRs @ Hinkley C & Sizewell C
      8.1 GW: 6 Hitachi (Horizon) ABWRs @ Wylfa & Oldbury
      3.4 GW: 3 NuGen AP1000s @ Sellafield
      5.6 GW: 4 Chinese CAP1400s (or 5 ACPR1000s) @ probably Bradwell
      1.2 GW: existing Sizewell B PWR expected to be life-extended to 2055
      + maybe some Russian VVER-1200s that the UK has already agreed can go through regulatory approval

      Altogether that is 25+ GW which is more than the entire UK summer
      baseload requirement, so taken with other already built baseload, leaves little prospect for much more wind and wave.

      • Quiet_Sceptic

        So companies can build and operate off-shore wind for the £92.5/MWh that Hinkley Point C is going to receive? Pull the other one.

        DECC are talking about off-shore wind getting £155/MWh, falling to £135/MWh for projects connecting in 2018/9. So very unlikely to reach parity with nuclear until at least mid to lat 2020.

        And of course those prices don’t reflect the additional back-up generation required to cover the wind capacity.

        • rwendland

          But the £92.5/MWh for Hinkley Point C is for 35 years and RPI inflation linked, but the off-shore wind £155/MWh is only for 15 years (not sure about inflation linked, pretty sure not RPI), so they are not comparable in a simple way. When Hinkley C generates power around 2023 at the £92.5/MWh + ~10 years of RPI increase, off-shore wind costs will probably have fallen. And 15 years later when the off-shore wind is re-turbined for another 15 years to match the Hinkley 35 year fixed deal, costs will again be a lot lower.

          A guy in the FT comments, who understands CfD inflation accounting did the maths (with several necessary big assumptions), and wrote:

          on-shore wind with a CFD tariff of £100/MWh – but crucially for a period of only 15 years – now offers vastly better economics than nuclear with none of the construction over-run risk …

          … if we assume a black power wholesale value of £50/MWh and all prices (including discounts) indexed equitably to inflation, then the relative “35 year” prices of what is being offered to renewables technologies under the same CFD scheme (for comparison against £92/MWh for Hinkley)

          Landfill gas: £56/MWh
          Hydro: £69/MWh
          Onshore wind: £71/MWh
          Dedicated new-build Biomass CHP: £80/MWh
          Solar Photovoltaic: £82/Mwh
          Anaerobic digestion: £91/MWh
          Offshore wind: £95/MWh – falling to £86/MWh for later projects

          This is very sobering stuff, some of these technologies (notably biomass) provide genuine baseload power with more flexibility than nuclear and none of the risk, while others (notably solar) are on a curve where for every GW installed the price of the next GW comes down. Placed in this context, it is incredibly difficult to see how this deal is going to benefit the UK in any way at all …

          • Steve Stubbs

            Love to know where you get the idea that in the long term costs of offshore wind power will have fallen? History of all engineering projects, especially those offshore, suggest the actual opposite. What do you know the rest of us don’t?

  • driver56

    Not only is the country defenceless, It has lost the capability to build its own defences.we must be the laughing stock of the world. I can’t wait until Argentina takes the Falklands back, what can we do about it errrr soldiers a few sailors on aircraft carriers with no planes to fly off them, RAF Pilots laid off. the list goes on.

  • The_Average_Joe_UK

    Whilst its no consolation to the skilled ship builders of Portsmouth the unemployment rate in the town is low. All the figures are at portsmouth . gov . uk / yourcouncil / 1557 . html The opening paragraph is wrong when it talks about high unemployment.

    The rest of the article is adrift. Government cant create jobs, when Government tries to they are not sustainable.

    Given a choice between Labour and the Tories who do you think would create the conditions for new companies to emerge, entrepreneurialism, the people who create real jobs? Do you think Socialist, marxist Miliband has experience of this? Does he attract or scare these people? Does he talk their language? Do they trust him?


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