The defence giant BAE Systems is poised to slash more than 1,000 jobs across three UK shipyards, sparking outrage from politicians and union officials last night.
The jobs are under threat at Govan and Scotstoun in Glasgow, and Portsmouth according to reports. The job losses – set to be formally announced tomorrow according to the BBC – come at a time of huge political sensitivity, particularly in Scotland which is less than a year away from an independence referendum.
The cuts are said to be linked to the completion of the Royal Navy's two new aircraft carriers in 2015 and spiralling costs on the project taking the final bill past £6bn. The BAE's Glasgow yards at Govan and Scotstoun – which employ 3,200 people – have no orders on their books beyond the carriers. About 1,200 are employed in shipbuilding at Portsmouth.
Some of the job losses may be offset by a new contract to build a Type-26 Destroyer, according to reports.
But Scotland's finance secretary, John Swinney, called for "urgent clarity" on the cuts. The shipyard's owner, BAE Systems, said last year that it was considering closing one of its major shipyards as part of a maritime defence review.
Mr Swinney said: "We have been in dialogue for some time with BAE Systems on the issues surrounding the future of the Clyde shipyards. We are awaiting the outcome of BAE's discussions with the Ministry of Defence and are very alert to the situation concerning both yards. We are seeking urgent clarity on the future for both Govan and Scotstoun."
A BAE spokeswoman declined to comment on the job cuts but added: "We continue to work closely with the Ministry of Defence to explore all possible options to determine how best to sustain the capability to deliver complex warships in the UK in the future. This work is ongoing and we are committed to keeping our employees and trade unions informed as it progresses."
Speculation that Govan is being lined up for closure mounted last weekend with the announcement that five cranes at the yard are to be decommissioned, although the historic yard is safe according to the BBC. BAE said the crane move was unrelated to the review.
Scottish Labour leader, Johann Lamont, said: "Shipbuilding is part of Scotland and everything must be done to ensure shipbuilding on the Clyde continues. This will be a particularly worrying time for the workforce and their families but I will work with anyone to make sure we can keep these jobs."
Hugh Scullion, general secretary of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions, said the union would hold talks with senior BAE Systems executives early next week to "examine the business case of the forthcoming announcement".
"Now is not the time for idle speculation or indeed party political point scoring, this is the future of an industry and we need to know from the company and the Government directly what their plans for the future of UK shipbuilding are," he said.