Vosper urges MoD to speed up shipbuilding order

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The Independent Online

Vosper Thornycroft, the warship builder, yesterday urged the Ministry of Defence to speed up an order for fishery protection vessels, saying delays in awarding the contract could hamper attempts to preserve jobs at its Southampton yard.

Vosper Thornycroft, the warship builder, yesterday urged the Ministry of Defence to speed up an order for fishery protection vessels, saying delays in awarding the contract could hamper attempts to preserve jobs at its Southampton yard.

Vosper has handed out protective redundancy notices to 650 of the 1,200 shipyard workers at its Woolston yard and will put them into effect in January if it has not secured orders to tide it over an 18-month work gap.

Reporting a 14 per cent rise in profits before tax and goodwill to £19m for the six months to September, Vosper said it was "concerned" that the Royal Navy order for five fishery protection vessels was not progressing quickly. The MoD had been expected to announce a preferred bidder for the contract by the beginning of next year but Vosper and other UK yards bidding for the work are still waiting for an invitation to tender. Even after these have been issued it will take three months to select the successful bidder.

Chris Cundy, Vosper's finance director, said the yard was also bidding for a MoD order for vehicle and troop landing craft, and was in talks to build fast passenger ferries with a number of European operators.

If new orders cannot be found then Vosper will begin reducing the workforce at Southampton as work runs down on a contract for minehunters, which is almost complete. Vosper has been selected to help build a new generation of Type 45 destroyers but work on these will not start until mid-2002. Vosper will build the Type 45 in the Portsmouth naval base, a move which could spell the end of warship building in Southampton after more than 90 years. Vosper will attempt to keep the yard open but if no work can be found it will be sold off.

Despite the looming work gap, Vosper reported a doubling in its order book to £1.25bn, 75 per cent of which is accounted for by its support services arm.

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