Aircraft carrier plan brings bright future

THE recent announcement by the Ministry of Defence that construction of two new aircraft carriers is to go ahead is potentially very good news for hundreds of companies in the region who work in the marine, defence and engineering sectors.

WELCOME to our comment column, in which leading figures from the region present a thought-provoking view on an issue affecting their company or organisation or the wider community. Today it’s the turn of TREVOR HARRISON, managing director, Northern Defence Industries.

THE recent announcement by the Ministry of Defence that construction of two new aircraft carriers is to go ahead is potentially very good news for hundreds of companies in the region who work in the marine, defence and engineering sectors.

The aircraft carrier programme has been years in the planning and, once underway, will represent the single largest marine construction programme the UK has ever seen.

The two carriers - already named HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales - will be the largest warships ever built for the Royal Navy. They will both weigh in at 65,000 tonnes, with flight-decks longer than three football pitches - and they will each be taller than Nelson’s column in London’s Trafalgar Square.

Northern Defence Industries (NDI) represents more than 200 small and medium-sized enterprises throughout the North-east and Yorkshire, and has been involved in the aircraft carriers project right from the beginning.

Indeed, at an earlier stage of this enormous project, NDI worked successfully with the Evening Gazette in a drive to get local companies to register their capabilities in anticipation of the announcement made in the last few days.

It has been confirmed that these new super-carriers will be built in four massive ‘blocks’ in shipyards throughout the UK, namely at Govan and Rosyth in Scotland, and in Barrow and Portsmouth in England.

With the demise of shipbuilding in the North-east, it has been clear for some time that this region was not going to have a realistic prospect of winning any of the largest ‘chunks’ of construction.

Nevertheless, the sheer scale of this building programme means there is potential for companies of all sizes in the North-east and Yorkshire to bid for and win contracts as the programme progresses towards the ships’ in-service dates of 2014 and 2016.

It is estimated that more than 10,000 jobs will either be created or be preserved during the life of the carrier programme.

Of these, 5,000 jobs will be in wider industry outside of the four main construction yards, and NDI is actively campaigning for as many of these as possible to come to the region.

A building programme on this scale demands the creation of effective and often complex ‘supply chains’; companies of all sizes, from the smallest to the largest, working cooperatively and in collaboration to provide cost-effective solutions for the customer - in this case the Ministry of Defence.

NDI has expertise in putting together such supply chains, and we will be encouraging not only our 200 subscribing member companies, but others in the region also, to seriously consider how they can position themselves to take advantage of the new work opportunities that will be presented in the next few years.

A programme such as this does not just require skills in physical engineering.

There will be a need, too, for talented designers - and our region has a wealth of such design talent that will be in great demand during the life of this project.

Indeed, with an almost uncanny sense of good timing, NDI has been instrumental in creating the Marine Design Centre, based in Newcastle but with a region-wide remit, to act as a focus for our regional designers to work on projects such as this.

The Marine Design Centre was officially opened by Lord Drayson just hours after the Government’s announcement and I am confident that this new facility - the first of its kind in the UK - will have a major role to play for the benefit of the marine industry in the North-east.

The aircraft carrier programme has an estimated value of £3.9bn.

Northern Defence Industries will be doing all we can to help win substantial business for firms in the North-east and Yorkshire, and I encourage companies who think they have skills and capabilities appropriate to the project to contact us.

We may not actually build ships in this region any more - but we have a wealth of engineering and design expertise that will play a vital role in seeing the carrier programme through to a successful (and profitable) conclusion.

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