Agreement reached to allow Brexit negotiations on trade to proceed
News overnight that a deal has been reached in Brussels between the UK and the EU to allow negotiations on to the terms of a post-Brexit trade between the UK and EU to proceed has been cautiously welcomed within the manufacturing sector. Responding to this, Stephen Phipson, CEO of EEF, said that ‘companies are relieved there is progress in the negotiations. But this is one step forward in a complex and long process. So we need to pin down the transition arrangements, which will be in place after March 2019, to ensure it's business as usual for companies for as long as it takes until a final deal is reached. Until we get to that point, many businesses will need to prepare for any and every eventuality. Many employers will be relieved that their EU employees have more certainty going forward, and Government must now clarify the rights of EU citizens by Christmas so that they are not concerned about their future.’ Earlier in the week, EEF led call for Brexit transition deal to be agreed before Christmas.
Defence Secretary gives first interview, as Chancellor rejects speculation of a cut to the defence budget
In his first interview since his appointment as Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson told the Daily Mail that his focus was on operations against ISIS and national security at home. Taking a notably tough line, he said that British citizens who fought for ISIS should be ‘eliminated’ and never allowed to return to the UK. At the same time, the Mail revealed new figures demonstrating the increased tempo of UK unmanned air strikes in Syria. Though Mr Williamson did not discuss the current stresses on the defence budget, the outgoing Chief Executive of Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S), Tony Douglas made it clear in his appearance before the Public Accounts Committee this week that he would like to see a rise in the MOD’s equipment budget. In a frank exchange, he highlighted the problem of foreign exchange and the weakening in the strength of the pound against the US dollar. Mr Douglas will leave his post, and the public sector, at the end of the year. Separately, the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, appearing before the Treasury Select Committee, denied reports that he was planning to cut funding to the armed forces and indicated he was sympathetic to the challenges the MOD faces. In what might be seen as a rebuke to the new Defence Secretary, who has been vocal on the issue, he suggested that Mr Williamson would want to meet to discuss the defence budget as soon as he was fully on top of his new brief - Mr Hammond served as Defence Secretary between 2011 and 2014.
HMS Queen Elizabeth commissioned into Royal Navy
The Queen was the guest of honour at the commissioning of the first of the Royal Navy’s two new aircraft carriers on Thursday. The monarch was on board her namesake ship in Portsmouth when the White Ensign was raised on the vessel for the first time. At 65,000 tonnes, HMS Queen Elizabeth, and her sister ship HMS Prince of Wales, are the largest ever built for the Royal Navy and, at a combined cost of £6.2bn, the most expensive. They will ultimately be complimented by a fleet of up to 36 Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing configuration F-35 Lightning jets, though a consignment of 24 appears more likely. It was revealed in July that HMS Queen Elizabeth will conduct her maiden deployment in 2021, which will include freedom of navigation patrols in the South China Sea. Prior to then, sea trials will continue, leading up to the first flight trials from her deck next year as the complex job of integrating both programmes gets underway. 120 air crew are currently training in the US on the F-35 and carrier operations in readiness for this. In advance of the commissioning ceremony, at the weekend MOD released a story highlighting the strength and depth of the UK supply chain that has contributed to the build of HMS Queen Elizabeth, which has included over 700 UK-based SMEs.
Bids submitted for Canadian frigate competition
On 29 November, BAE Systems and Lockheed Martin Canada announced a partnership bid in response to the Canadian Surface Combatant programme. The program for a fleet of up to 15 ships is estimated to be worth CAN$62 billion and will be led by prime contractor Irving Shipbuilding who will construct the vessels at their shipyard in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The BAE Systems/Lockheed bid is based on the Type 26 design currently under construction in Glasgow for the Royal Navy. Lockheed will provide the combat management system, a newer version of that already in service with the Royal Canadian Navy. Also participating in the bid are CAE, L3 Technologies, MDA and Ultra Electronics.
Canadian officials declined to say how many bids were received for the project by the 30 November deadline, though a consortium led by Alion Canada has announced it offer of the Dutch De Zeven Provinciën-class frigate, and an offer from Spanish shipbuilder Navantia, based on its F-105 design, has also be acknowledged. Unusually, a Franco-Italian partnership of Naval Group and Fincantieri, based on the FREMM frigate, has been disbarred as it was submitted directly to Canada‘s defence department, rather than through the prime contractor, in breach of competition rules. A decision on the winning design is expected sometime in 2018
- Asked whether competition is required for all his Department’s procurement programmes, the Minister replying answered that the National Security Through Technology white paper, which was published in 2012, states that, wherever possible, MOD will seek to fulfil the UK's defence and security requirements through open competition in the domestic and global market. At times, however, the competitive procurement route is not always suitable. For example, where we can only contract with a single supplier because of exclusive Intellectual Property Rights, in times of extreme urgency, or when it is strictly necessary to protect our national security interests.
- Asked what assessment has been made of the sufficiency of the management and technical resources within the Ministry of Defence to manage both the Type 26 and Type 31a programmes at the same time; and how many (1) Defence Equipment and Support, and (2) Royal Navy, staff they estimate will be needed to manage each of those programmes at their peaks, MOD answered that it is satisfied with the number of people and balance of capability dedicated to each programme and has a plan to increase those resources to respond to the needs of both the Type 26 and Type 31e programmes in the future. The transformation of DE&S has introduced a balanced matrix management structure, which allows specialist resources to be deployed more easily to meet the demands of equipment procurement projects.
Operational Typhoon now in full swing (Eurofigher GMbH)