MoD signs off on £3bn warships

Why waste public money on tax breaks, when we can splash out £3bn on two massive tooled-up aircraft carriers instead?

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

In a move that feels more like an episode from Britain’s glorious maritime past (as opposed to our credit crunch-crippled present), the Government is set to spend £3bn building two massive new aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy. Great news for shipbuilders (and heaven knows they haven’t had a lot of that in the last 20 years); but we can’t help wondering if this is a sensible way to splash the cash as the UK economy prepares for its most painful slowdown in years…

The two 65,000-tonne ships, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, will be the biggest warships we’ve ever had – 280 metres long, capable up carrying up to 40 planes (or 25 helicopters) – and are due to enter service in 2014 and 2016 (given our track record on large construction projects, we’re sure they’ll be right on time). The First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Jonathon Band (now there’s a man with a great title) said the ships would ‘provide the UK with a potent and powerful aircraft carrier force that will deliver air power in support of the full range of future operations at sea, in the air and on land.’

The politicians are also pleased; Defence Secretary Des Brown called it ‘a historic day for everyone in defence’. And it’s certainly a huge boon for the industry: the MoD reckons the contract will sustain 1,200 jobs in Portsmouth, 3,000 on the Clyde, 1,600 in Rosyth, 400 in Barrow-in-Furness, 145 in Frimley and 250 in Bristol and Crawley. With the OECD predicting this week that another 100,000 people are going to join UK dole queues in the coming years, that’s the kind of news we like to hear.

However, not everyone seems convinced. This will take such a big chunk of the defence budget (which is being cut all the time anyway) that some are worried that we won’t actually have enough ships and subs to protect these carriers. Others are arguing that the money would have been better spent on front-line troops, given the ongoing controversy about soldiers’ kit in the Middle East. And then others again will think that this money should have been diverted to stemming the economic meltdown at home...

The move also comes against a backdrop of French efforts to push for a 60,000-strong EU defence force (which Britain opposes) – in fact, President Sarkozy has even suggested that we should donate one of these new carriers to the EU, which seems to have caused much hilarity among the Royal Navy top brass. At least if we have our own warships, we can send them across the North Sea to protect Peter Mandelson the next time Sarko picks a fight with him...

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