The big cranes are moving again

A shipbuilding contract to die for, worth £372 million and 3,700 jobs – on Clydeside, for the Royal Navy. Ian Jack, a seasoned Scots reporter long ago translated to London has gone back to Glasgow to write a terrific piece in the Guardian about the revival of an old industry. Yet Govan it seems, has long rejected the nostalgia for the old days which in Belfast is all that’s left of the old H&W tradition ( well, not quite all).

Perhaps… the Clyde shipyard’s publicist is right when she says her company, BAE Systems, needs to change “the Scottish mindset”, which is less than thrilled by the idea of shipbuilding, yards being relegated along with pits and iron forges to folk memory. There were so many years of grieving, when heavy industry was in a kind of hospice. The bereaved have at last let go.

Yet, despite the growing importance of services in the economy, there’s still something about “making things” rather than sitting over a PC or flipping a burger that is more substantial, more worthy even, particularly in these days of credit crunch.

Has the real legacy of the Yard been neutered in a marketing strategy for flats and marinas? Or could the appetite for highly-skilled craft manufacturing ever be revived on the Lagan, given half the chance?

  • wild turkey

    ‘The two supercarriers are the largest Britain has built and cost an estimated £3.9bn. A cynic might point to Labour’s constituency interests. A naval strategist might remember the vulnerability of large ships to air attack’

    Uh, actually Ian, anyone with an IQ over the speedlimit would point to Labours constituency interests… and also might ask (1) what is the opportunity cost at £3.9 billion (before the inevitable cost overruns) of hospitals, schools etc, etc, foregone and (2) about the efficacy and purpose of aircraft carriers in the 21st century. I would have thought Brown would have named the carriers HMS Prudence and HMS YourPayRiseisLimitedto1.9%. But this is the price to paid for putting the Great back in Britain…. sorry I digress.

    ‘could the appetite for highly-skilled craft manufacturing ever be revived on the Lagan, given half the chance? ‘
    B Walker

    ‘Foreman says these jobs are goin boys and they ain’t comin back to your hometown’
    B Springstein

  • billie-Joe Remarkable

    Shipbuilding? Dream on. It’s gone to the Far East and all we have are our memories.

    I can recall asking my grandfather if he applied to work on the Titanic and he said: “Don’ be stupid, son, you don’t ‘apply’ to the shipyard. Those jobs are handed down from generation to generation, protestant father to protestant son. We’re Catholics. We never got a look in.”

    And what about Sirocco, Shorts, Mackies and FG Wilson? Surely you had a chance in those massive factories? He laughed, ruffled my hair, gave me 10p and said: “When you’re older son, you’ll see. Now run along.”

    Ah, the old man was very confused. It wasn’t like that, was it? Well, was it?

  • Greenflag

    Brian Walker

    ‘Or could the appetite for highly-skilled craft manufacturing ever be revived on the Lagan, given half the chance?

    ‘there’s still something about “making things” rather than sitting over a PC or flipping a burger that is more substantial, more worthy even’

    Machines make money and the people who make the machines that make the machines make even more money . The German economist Friedrich List put forward the concept that a country had to be a manufacturer to prosper . Primary economies were by definition condemned to permanently low living standards vis a vis ‘manufacturing ‘ countries .

    Of course the world has moved on from Britain being the ‘workshop ‘ of the world to then Germanys attempt to usurp that role to American and then Japanese and now China defining itself in that role . In a world where the formerly all powerful and efficient Japanese Shipyards are now losing out to Korean upstarts it’s hard to see any ‘revival’ for the Lagan’s traditional industry .

    Unless of course they took a long hard look at the factors which played out in how the 1970’s and 1980’s saw a decline in the fortunes of Britain’s Engineering Industry while German Engineering industry not only survived but became more competitive . While the numbers of skilled engineers plummeted in the UK -the numbers in Germany remained constant and even increased. Partly this was due to the greater number of small to medium sized companies in German engineering (200 to 500 ) employees whereas in Britain there had been dependence on fewer large companies .

    The ‘pre eminence ‘ of London as a world financial centre and the Conservative South East base in electoral politics probably helped Thatcher in her ‘services’ drive .

    While a move to a strong services economy was inevitable it’s not clear that this also necessitated the almost wilful destruction of Britain’s engineering and manufacturing sectors.

    It’s a huge topic 🙂 -As for whether it’s possible for developed western societies to maintain and increase their living standards based purely on a services economy ? – Methinks the jury is still out on that . We may have just gone through a ‘false’ phase (the past 20 years) when it appeared that we could . In the light of the present ‘financial services implosion’ perhaps List had a point ?

    Could Lagan ‘engineering ‘ be revived ? Perhaps they need to have a talk with the IDA lads who could give them a few pointers re the investment required and a long term strategy /plan .

    Always remembering of course that the first law in business is if you can’t sell it then better notmake it .

  • Harry Flashman

    3,700 shipbuilding jobs? Sure where would we find 3,700 Polish ship builders these days?

  • Greenflag


    ‘where would we find 3,700 Polish ship builders these days? ‘

    Oh ye of little faith 🙁

    In Dublin of course . These lads would chance their arm at anything as long as the pay is in Euros and not zlotys 🙂

  • Turgon

    This is a bit off topic but the talking about the vulnerability of large ships to air attack (which is very true) and linking that to HMS Hermes during the Falklands War is completely inaccurate.

    One of the major reasons so many British ships were sunk or damaged during the Falklands War was that the British had only two small carriers. These could only carry Harriers and helicopters. By contrast the large American carriers carry many different types of planes including Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft. These planes allow the ships to have long range warning of approaching enemy aircraft.

    Had Britain had these during the Falklands they would not have had to station ships like HMS Sheffield at a long distance from the task force to provide early warning of attack on the carriers.

    Whatever the dangers which large ships face from aircraft: the Falklands war is not a good explanation of their disadvantages.