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MoD stalls as Swans jobs hang in balance.

Byline: By Graeme King

The team behind the Ministry of Defence's pounds 4bn aircraft carrier project refused yesterday to commit to any kind of timetable for the vessels ( as the jobs of North-East workers hoping to work on the project hung in the balance.

Swan Hunter workers have believed for years work on constructing the carriers was due to begin in 2008 ( and yard owner Jaap Kroese has been trying to secure contracts to keep them busy until then.

But now, with Swans' hopes of getting a leading role in the work dashed last month, the Ministry of Defence says it will not make its revised outline timetable public, despite previously being committed to in-service dates of 2012 and 2015.

Mr Kroese yesterday lambasted the MoD for the length of time the aircraft carriers project has been running ( and the pounds 200m bill already run up, before any steel has been cut. That bill increased to half a billion pounds when it was announced that the newly expanded Carriers Alliance ( involving lead contractors BAE Systems and Thales, physical integrator Kellogg Brown Root, along with Babcock in Rosyth and VT in Southampton ( had been granted a further pounds 300m to refine the design of the vessels.

Yesterday a spokesman for the MoD arm responsible, the Defence Procurement Agency, said: "We have not said when work will take place. What's happening now is the alliance will start looking in detail at how this project is taken forwards. We are not setting arbitrary dates for steel cutting, etc."

The spokesman said the DPA did have dates in mind for work on the carriers to begin, and for them to be in service, but was not revealing them. He said: "We are not publishing our planning assumptions ( we have a notion of dates, but we are not making that public. We need to make sure our planning assumptions are correct, but we don't want to conduct those sort of discussions in public. We don't want to jeopardise our negotiating position."

He added: "Given the history of shipbuilding in this country, with ships late and over budget, we need to make sure we get maximum value for money. We need to look at the capacity of the UK shipbuilding industry to deliver the ships."

The carriers project was first was launched in 1998, and the main contractors were appointed in 2002 ( yet four years later, only the four main yards to build the `megablocks' of the carriers have been decided.

Mr Kroese said: "What we have to find out is what will happen with the aircraft carriers. What kind of work are we going to get? That determines everything. We need to know if we are going to be messed around like we were last year.

"We are going to talk to the project director of CVF, and if I don't get any answers, I will go all the way up to John Reid ( I'm not going to be fobbed off. We just want to know `yes or no'.

"I'm going to decide what to do with the yard as soon as I find out what the Government will do. Up to now, we've been kicked round like a football.

"The CVF project has spent pounds 200m and is three years behind ( and the Government is blaming us for being a year late and spending too much money on the LSD(A) vessels.

Mr Kroese said there was very little work left to complete on the RFA Largs Bay and Lyme Bay, with the former due for sea trials next month, and the latter to be ready for July.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jan 4, 2006
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