The Labour Party, SNP and trade unions have all the big guns trained on the Conservatives at the moment over the government’s procurement plans for three new Royal Fleet Auxiliary Fleet Solid Support (FSS) ships.

The Government intends to compete the contract internationally. Labour, the SNP and the shipbuilding trade unions argue the contract should be restricted to UK shipyards to support the shipbuilding industry, secure jobs and retain skills. They argue the proposed ships are ‘warships’ and as such, the Government can use the Article 346 exemption to exclude the contract from EU procurement rules on national security grounds.

Falmouth and Truro MP Sarah Newton said: “Last week in Parliament, I joined a debate led by the Labour Party about the defence industry and shipbuilding. There was no division. We only have votes when the House of Commons “divides” on an issue. As we agreed there was no division and no vote. Sadly, some local Labour politicians are trying to spin the debate to create division where non exists. I hope they will rethink and put local and national interest above local Labour Party politics and back my longstanding commitment and track record of effective delivery with A&P Falmouth.

“My grandfather was an electrician at the docks and as someone who grew up here I understand how important our long association with the RN and RFA is for us all. A&P is one of the largest private sector employers in Cornwall, so ensuring that A&P Falmouth secures and wins naval and RFA contracts remains a top priority. By working hard and constructively with both the management and trade unions at A&P Falmouth I am proud of our record of achievement. Not only do RFA ships continue to be serviced and maintained in Falmouth but we won a new and important contract to weaponise some of the support vessels for our two new aircraft carriers.”

“I am proud of the investment this government is making in our navy and that new ships are being built in the U.K. I want to see more ships built in the U.K. and I will continue to work with the unions and management at A&P to secure new contracts for grey ships in our harbour.”

Mrs Newton’s remarks came in the wake of a statement issued by Jennifer Forbes, Labour’s Prospective Parliamentary Candidate in Truro and Falmouth, who wants the RFA ships built in Britain and based here in the port said: “I believe there is experience in Falmouth fitting out this sort of ship. I would support them in bidding for work as part of the build and basing the ship here. Government should look at supporting productive industry in Cornwall rather than overseas procurement.”

“Sarah Newton has the chance to support Labour’s plan for creating skilled and secure jobs in Truro & Falmouth.

But if she puts party politics before this area’s interests, it’s the people she’s supposed to represent who’ll lose out. There’s no good reason not to be doing this”

New figures released by Labour show that Truro & Falmouth has 910 shipbuilding and maintenance jobs worth £27.9m in wages, which brings in almost £6m in tax and National Insurance revenue.

Government policy is that defence procurement should be subject to open competition except when the UK judges it needs to protect its operational advantages and freedom of action for reasons of national security. This was outlined in a 2012 White Paper and, regarding surface vessels, reaffirmed in the 2017 National Shipbuilding Strategy.

“For reasons of national security, all Royal Navy warships (destroyers, frigates and aircraft carriers) will continue to have a UK-owned design, and, will be built and integrated in the UK. Warship build will be via competition between UK shipyards.”

Is an RFA ship a warship? Some pundits claim they are, with RFA personnel undergoing Royal Navy courses, the fitting of Phalanx guns, helicopters and small arms. The government disagrees claiming the RFA ship are non-combatant vessels.

The Strategy explicitly says all other naval ships, including Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships and other Navy ships such as patrol, mine countermeasures, hydrographic and amphibious ships, should be subject to open competition, unless there are compelling national security reasons to constrain a particular procurement to national providers. Military customisation – the integration of sensitive UK-specific systems – will be undertaken in the UK, usually after competition between UK providers.

Sarah Newton said: “A&P Falmouth are working in partnership with other U.K. yards and doing well in advancing bids to secure additional defence contracts for the docks in Falmouth, including for the new Type 31 frigate. I have launched a campaign for one of the new frigates to be called HMS Cornwall. I ensure that Defence Procurement Ministers Visit A&P Falmouth to see first hand the excellent work that is undertaken and the positive relationship that we have with the Royal Navy and RFA.

Since being elected I have consistently promoted the industry and was delighted to have secured A&P Falmouth’s involvement with the independent review of British Shipbuilding undertaken by Sir John Parker. All the recommendations he gave to the government for future modernisation and investment have been accepted and I am delighted that the importance to our economy of ports including Falmouth is recognised.”

A government briefing paper states that the FSS programme is currently in the Assessment Phase with competition expected to be formally launched towards the end of 2018 and a contract signed in 2020. The MOD says the contract will be for two ships with an option for a third.

The RFA currently has three Solid Support Ships: RFA Fort Austin, RFA Fort Rosalie and RFA Fort Victoria. Austin and Rosalie will leave service in 2023/24.

The four new RFA Tide Class MARS tankers which were all built in Korea. The military customisation programme was awarded to the A&P Group here in Falmouth where weaponry, communications systems and other military equipment are being installed.

The last ship of the class Tideforce currently enroute to Falmouth was expected in the US naval base at San Diego on Wednesday.