Harland & Wolff part of group to get £1.25bn defence contract

Union leaders say securing valuable contract demonstrates under-threat shipyard’s viability

The Harland & Wolff shipyard is in administration. Photograph: iStock

The Harland & Wolff shipyard is in administration. Photograph: iStock

 

Troubled Belfast shipyard Harland and Wolff is part of a consortium that has been awarded a £1.25 billion (€1.4 billion) contract from the UK ministry of defence (MoD) to build five Royal Navy warships.

Union leaders believe the contract demonstrates there is a “viable” future for the yard, which is in the hands of administrators and up for sale.

Michael Jennings and Brian Murphy from BDO Northern Ireland were appointed joint administrators to the shipyard, which was founded in 1861, more than a month ago.

The administrators have said there has been a “healthy level of interest” in the yard, which built the Titanic, and it is understood they are reviewing several bids.

Harland & Wolff is part of the Babcock Team 31 which the MoD has selected as the preferred bidder to build its the vessels.

Aerospace and defence company Babcock and the Thales Group are the lead partners in the consortium of companies which also includes BMT Defence Services and Ferguson Marine.

UK prime minister Boris Johnson said the contract would create thousands of jobs in the British shipping industry and he has pledged to bring shipbuilding back to the UK.

According to the UK government, the £1.25 billion order for the five frigates will support more than 2,500 jobs across the UK.

Call on government

Susan Fitzgerald, regional co-ordinating officer with the trade union Unite, said the UK government must ensure that some of these jobs will be in the North.

Ms Fitzgerald said the contract was “welcome news” for former Harland & Wolff workers who have manned a round-the-clock picket outside the gates of the shipyard since it was placed in administration.

She believes that Harland & Wolff’s role in the consortium that has been awarded preferred bidder status demonstrates that it “has a future as a viable shipbuilder. Just weeks ago politicians, including the British government, had written off this yard, saying it had no future.

“Through their courageous stand the workforce at Harland & Wolff have held open the door for the company to participate in this work. They have kept this shipyard in the game. The opportunity exists to bring this work to Belfast providing at least five to six years of work in steel fabrication on site alone,” said Ms Fitzgerald.

But she said that the shipyard still needs “urgent intervention by government to get our members back to work”.

Ms Fitzgerald added: “There is a clear programme of work for the company into the future – all that is needed is the political will to safeguard a future for this shipyard.”