Outlook: GEC/Govan

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The Independent Online
IN THESE days of post-Cold War defence cuts, to own one warshipyard looks unfortunate while owning two smacks of carelessness. But to own three suggests someone has a death wish.

GEC Marconi yesterday threw a lifeline to the 1,200 workers at the Govan yard on the Clyde by agreeing to buy the business from Kvaerner for pounds 2.25m. This may not sound like much but the fact is that overcapacity in warship building is such these days that Marconi really ought to have been paid to take Govan off the Norwegians' hands.

The deal presents Marconi with a clean sweep of warship yards in the north, since it already owns Barrow, through VSEL, and Yarrow, which is also on the Clyde. The only competition left is Vosper Thornycroft in Southampton, but that has tended to specialise in smaller boats such as minehunters and fast patrol craft.

But no matter. Some day soon, GEC's chairman, Lord Simpson, will present all three yards to British Aerospace as a dowry, provided Stephen Byers gives his blessing to the two companies' defence marriage.

Why BAe needs three yards is a mystery. Marconi says Barrow is full up building the last of the Tridents, some conventional submarines for the Canadians and a couple of troop carriers to replace the Fearless and Intrepid.

Yarrow, meanwhile, is busy finishing off some Royal Navy frigates and in any case is too far up river to accommodate the big Royal Navy roll- on roll-off ferries that Govan plans to bid for. Even so, to keep the yard going for now, Marconi is having to ship work around the coast from Barrow to the Clyde. Govan, scene of the sit-in by the shipyardworkers of the Upper Clyde three decades ago, is a great survivor and as luck would have it, the yard has found another benefactor in the nick of time.

Then again, Scottish shipyard jobs have always been a politically emotive subject, even as far south as Westminster. You don't need to be a conspiracy theorist to think GEC and BAe's magnanimity might have something to do with giving Mr Byers one more prod in the back.

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