Blog: The Society of Maritime Industries welcomed the publication of the National Shipbuilding Strategy refresh

First published in 2017, the National Shipbuilding Strategy outlined ambitions to transform naval procurement, providing greater certainty about the Royal Navy’s procurement plans and helping to secure export and design contracts for British naval ships.  It’s fair to say the first iteration of the Strategy received a lukewarm reception.  Limited in scope, the procurement route for the new Royal Navy support vessels was uncertain and there was no “value” scoring given to UK shipyards and the supply chain for these vessels.  On the plus side it did result in the Type 31 UK only competition with a clear 5 ship order for Babcock.  This commitment to a 5-ship order meant Babcock was able to invest £76m in their facilities at Rosyth.  This has been game changing and gives us a glimpse of how UK yards and the entire shipbuilding enterprise can grow.

Our members have consistently told us industry requires confidence in order to invest.  The “stop-start” approach to Government procured vessels has stifled the investment opportunities for the UK supply chain.  Do we invest in new robotic welding?  How many apprentices can we take on?  Can that dry-dock be refurbished?  Endless questions like this have delayed investment at UK shipyards but also throughout the supply chain that competes on a global basis.

So SMI firmly supported the release of the updated strategy on March 10 2022 as it recognised the opportunity for the UK in developing the whole of the UK’s shipbuilding enterprise.  The Government’s firm commitment to a 30-year shipbuilding pipeline shows it is listening and we further welcome the increased emphasis on the social value of shipbuilding.  This is a huge step forward which, consistently applied, will help to prevent UK shipbuilding opportunities go abroad.

With greater confidence, businesses can invest for the long term, ramping up productivity and apprenticeship programmes.  Driving up skills and investment in UK yards and the entire supply chain helps create a climate where we can offer more innovative and higher tech vessels and systems than our overseas competition, to time, cost and quality.  This increase in competitiveness works for UK PLC in terms of jobs, taxes, regional development but also puts the UK in a strong export position.

Supporting UK exports, The Department for International Trade’s new organisation, the Maritime Capability and Campaign Office (MCCO) has a growing team that has recognised the value of relationship development with prospects and clients.  Selling complex maritime engineering solutions isn’t something for a simple e-mail exchange.  I recall Mike Coomber at Rivertrace Engineering talking about the 10 years it took them to enter the Japanese market.  It takes face to face meetings on sales trips, conferences and exhibitions to build confidence and relationships to win new business.  Once you’ve won your project you need to keep your brand and products fresh in your client’s mind with more visits, conferences and exhibitions.  Selling maritime engineering overseas is not for the fainthearted!

My final word on the strategy release is a reflection back to one of the original drivers for the Sir John Parker 2017 report.  The UK wants to maintain a sovereign capability in warship building.  The Rich Picture workshops convened through 2020-21 discovered that this isn’t feasible if you solely rely on warship vessel builds.  If you combine defence and civil vessel builds and stimulate the UK supply chain you can deliver this capability in a sustainable and much greater value for money way.

The importance of this capability is underlined by tragic events in Ukraine which demonstrate Britain requires the resilience to be able to defend itself as an island nation as well as support our allies around the globe.

This blog was written as a feature for the 2022 State of the Maritime Nation Report.