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Parliament has taken a keen interest in the Government’s National Shipbuilding Strategy (NSS). The strategy concerns the procurement of new surface ships for the Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary (the latter delivers logistical and operational support).

MPs are divided over the Government’s approach towards UK-only versus international competitions for different categories of surface vessels. Labour and the SNP are calling on the Ministry of Defence (MOD) to restrict the competition for new support ships to UK yards to support the UK shipbuilding industry. Some MPs and Lords question whether the Royal Navy’s currentfleet of 19 frigates and destroyers is sufficient. There are indications there may be fewer in the mid-2020s.

The Commons Library has published several briefing papers in recent years examining surface ship procurement which delve deeper into the issues highlighted below (see box 1). This short paper provides an update on the strategy and the procurement plans for support ships and two classes of frigates. The latest developments are:

  • The approved in-service date for the Type 31 frigates is now 2027, according to a letter written by the MOD’s Permanent Secretary to the chair of the Public Accounts Committee in January 2020. The Shipbuilding Strategy said the first vessel should be in service by 2023.
  • A Babcock International-led consortium signed the contract for the Type 31s in November 2019. The overall cost is just under £2bn.
  • The Government unexpectedly halted the international competition for the new Fleet Solid Support ships in early November 2019. In January 2020 the Ministry of Defence said it was “currently assessing the options.”
  • Sir John Parker, whose 2016 independent report informed the NSS, published his review of the implementation of the strategy in November 2019. He was ‘encouraged’ by progress made in implementing the strategy but criticised the Government’s decision to limit the number of categories of ships eligible for UK only competition.

This paper briefly explores these developments and Parliamentary interest in the Shipbuilding Strategy. 

Related Library papers on this topic include:

In addition, Library paper ‘an introduction to defence procurement’ examines the overarching themes governing the purchase of defence material. The author discussed these in a Commons Library podcast, available from the Commons Library website

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