HMS Prince of Wales: Taxpayers may pay for Royal Navy warship’s £25m repair bill, committee meeting hears

Mounting costs to repair the damage caused to a Royal Navy aircraft carrier will come out of the public purse.
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MPs heard at a Commons Defence Sub-Committee meeting yesterday evening that the Navy would be billed ‘in the first instance’ to fix HMS Prince of Wales – as the government failed to take out an ‘extended warranty’. In March, the estimated cost of repairing the 65,000-tonne aircraft carrier reached £20m. However a report published in March said that Bae Systems, which played a key role in the construction of the aircraft carrier, could potentially fund the repairs.

HMS Prince of Wales broke down off the Isle of Wight coast in August last year. She limped back to base, and was later taken to a dry dock in Rosyth, Scotland, for repairs. The Royal Navy confirmed that the starboard propeller on the £3bn vessel malfunctioned, with the coupling holding it in place breaking.

HMS Prince of Wales. Picture: LISA FERGUSON.HMS Prince of Wales. Picture: LISA FERGUSON.
HMS Prince of Wales. Picture: LISA FERGUSON.
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Problems were also discovered on the portside shaft, according to Vice Admiral Paul Marshall at a defence select committee meeting in January. The costs have been rising since, with it now more likely that the Navy – and consequentially the taxpayer – would pay for the repairs.

As reported in the Daily Mirror, when asked who would be billed during the committee meeting, defence procurement minister, James Cartlidge, said: ‘I don’t think we’ve made a final decision on that.’ He was corrected by the Ministry of Defence’s top civil servant, permanent secretary David Williams.

Mr Williams said: ‘In the first instance, the cost of the repair will come out of the Navy’s budget.’ Senior Conservative MP Richard Drax demanded to know why companies involved in the construction of HMS Prince of Wales were not funding the repairs.

Andy Start, chief executive of Defence Equipment and Support arm of the Ministry of Defence (MoD), claimed paying the £25m was cheaper than taking out an ‘extended warranty’ on the carrier. The vessel is designed to last 50 years.

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He said in the meeting: ‘Those extended warranties on things like carriers … are really expensive. The cost of the repair was a tiny, tiny proportion of what it would have cost us to have the equivalent of an extended warranty.

‘It is better value for us not to buy an extended warranty and better value for us to pay for it as we go, and that’s what we are doing.’ Mr Start added that taking cash back from companies that built the warship was ‘complicated’.

The work to construct both HMS Prince of Wales and Queen Elizabeth was split among multiple firms. Plans are still on track for the Portsmouth-based vessel to be operational later this year.

As previously reported in The News, a Royal Navy spokesperson said: ‘We remain committed to ensuring HMS Prince of Wales commences her operational programme as planned, in autumn 2023, including operational flying training and trials.’ The spokesperson added that no delays have been caused to the Carrier Strike Programme due to the HMS Prince of Wales repairs.