Page last updated at 14:44 GMT, Monday, 23 June 2008 15:44 UK

Carrier delay 'could cost jobs'

Image of how the new carrier will look
The new aircraft carriers deal would secure defence jobs in Scotland

The delay in signing a contract for two new aircraft carriers could endanger jobs at Scottish shipyards, according to a cross-party group of MPs.

In its report on the defence industry, the Scottish Affairs Committee also said any gap in workload could damage the UK's ship-building skills base.

There have been delays over the past two years in finalising the 4bn deal for the vessels.

They would be partly built on the Clyde and fully assembled at Rosyth.

In its report, the committee urged the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to review how it communicates the progress of defence programmes.

It said this was necessary to "limit uncertainty and worry about possible delays, and to avoid 'scare-mongering' which has been destabilising to the workforce and wider community".

The report also identified a number of "challenges" ahead for the industry.

The UK Government must get its act together and get this contract signed without any further delay
Angus MacNeil MP, SNP
It said possible constitutional change, limited success to date in the export market, and competition from English yards were all threats to future work.

Committee chairman, Mohammad Sarwar MP, said: "It is not an exaggeration to say that the defence industry in Scotland is vital.

"We heard during evidence sessions that defence and aerospace industries and the MoD support almost 50,000 jobs in Scotland.

"To secure the future of the industry, and to ensure that it remains a world class base for manufacturing and engineering, we call on the MoD, the Scottish Government, Scottish Enterprise, Skills Development Scotland, the Scotland Office, and the industry itself to forge a coherent and effective working relationship."

'Best workforce'

But SNP member, Angus MacNeil, accused the Labour-dominated committee of "scaremongering" on issues like constitutional change and said the blame for delays lay with UK ministers.

He said: "The UK Government must get its act together and get this contract signed without any further delay. That is what the Scottish yards need now - not baseless scaremongering from Labour MPs.

"Scotland has the best yards and best workforce in the world and in all circumstances will secure orders on the basis of their formidable skills, and a record of delivery which is second to none.

"Since Labour came to power in 1997 we have lost almost 5,000 defence jobs in Scotland. The least the UK government can do now is repay the commitment of the Scottish yards with this vital contract."

Liberal Democrats defence spokesman, Willie Rennie, agreed that "the yards at Rosyth and on the Clyde have been waiting far too long for the deal" to be signed.

He said many people would not actually believe the carriers would be built "until they see the ink dry on the contracts".

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