Portsmouth dockyard work at risk if deal for budget Royal Navy frigates isn’t struck, Admiral says

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BRITAIN’S former top sailor has said Portsmouth’s dockyard workers could face ‘a squeeze’ if the government can’t strike a deal to build a low-cost breed frigates.

Former First Sea Lord Admiral Lord Alan West said he is worried about the time it is taking to agree a design for the new Type 31e warships, which has already faced set backs.

A welder works on the aircraft carrier in Portsmouth.'Photo: Ian Hargreaves

A welder works on the aircraft carrier in Portsmouth.'Photo: Ian Hargreaves

The vessels are due to be a cheaper counterpart to the more costly Type 26 frigates – which the defence secretary Gavin Williamson today revealed would all be based in Plymouth.

Together with the Type 26, they will replace the navy’s current ageing fleet of Type 23 frigates.

Read more: Jobs boom hopes as Portsmouth battles for Type 26 repair work

However, Lord West is worried that delays in the process agree a design and start building the Type 31e general purpose vessels could impact the navy’s future fleet numbers.

Aerial shot of Portsmouth Naval Base with HMS Queen Elizabeth alongside side, accompanied by a Type 45 destroyer 'Photo: Andrew Tyrrell / Ordnance Survey

Aerial shot of Portsmouth Naval Base with HMS Queen Elizabeth alongside side, accompanied by a Type 45 destroyer 'Photo: Andrew Tyrrell / Ordnance Survey

And he feared this would have a knock-on effect for dockyard work at Portsmouth Naval Base, where defence experts have suspect the frigates will be based – if they’re ever built.

‘I would be delighted if the government can make the time scale and that the frigates can be produced for £250m (each) but I’m just not convinced this will happen,’ Lord West said.

Read more: Council leader ‘disappointed after MoD snubs Portsmouth’s plea to become Type 26 home 

‘The Type 31e will be base-ported in Portsmouth. If they’re not coming and replacing the Type 23s, they’re will be a squeeze on Portsmouth – there won’t be the work there.’

The government had initially sought bids from industry to produce the vessels for no more than £250m each. 

However, this collapsed earlier this year. A second round of bids are now being worked up.

Stephen Morgan, Portsmouth South MP, was worried about the situation and demanded assurances from Whitehall that the ships would still go ahead.

The Labour MP added: ‘The Tories are barely meeting the Nato commitment of two per cent of GDP on defence, when we know there is a need for more,’ he said. ‘Personnel numbers are half of what they were during the Cold War, morale is at a low, and with the size of our fleet dwindling, I’m worried about whether the Royal Navy has sufficient vessels to support the carriers, regardless of where they’re based.

‘I am however, assuming that all the Type 31s will be based in Portsmouth, and I sincerely hope this government will recognise that the fleet needs more than five Type 31s in order to grow back to a minimum size appropriate for the demands being placed upon it around the world.’

Portsmouth is currently home to the entire destroyer fleet, two aircraft carriers, six frigates as well as all the offshore patrol ships, eight minehunters and range of smaller patrol boats.