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Unions call for loan for Scilly ferry after Brexit contract

Unions have said they "see no reason whatsoever" why the Government cannot give a group from Scilly an interest-free loan to start work on a new ferry for the islands.

GMB and Unite called on the Government to back the bid to build a new ferry for Scilly and secure the future of Appledore Shipyard.

They cited the recent decision by Transport Minister Chis Grayling to offer a no-deal Brexit ferry contract to a start-up company that does not own any ferries.

Read the Unions' statement in full below:

Unions see no reason whatsoever why Government can’t give the Scilly Isles group an interest-free loan to get work started

Unions GMB and Unite have called on the government to back the bid to build the Scilly Isles ferry and secure the future of Appledore Shipyard.

The yard is due to close on 15 March, in a move that will be a hammer blow to the North Devon community and to English shipbuilding its 200 strong workforce.

The closure of the yard, which has built 197 ships, was announced back in November, partly due to the uncertainty of the government deciding to pause the bidding process for its type 31e Frigates in July and also the failure of Babcock’s bids for other work.

The MoD said it had been forced to rethink the acquisition strategy for its Type 31e general-purpose frigate programme citing insufficient compliant bids for an effective and robust competition.

However in recent weeks the Government have awarded a £13.8m contract for ‘no-deal’ Brexit ferry services to a start-up company without a competitive process and that as yet does not own a single ferry, throwing up doubts about the government’s tender process.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling told the BBC he would make no apologies for "supporting a new British business". The contract award notice states this was due to "a situation of extreme urgency" in the run-up to the UK's EU departure date.

Unions are now again calling for the government to apply the same level of support and award a contract to build a new Scilly Isles ferry. Last week the GMB Union held talks with Oil, Gas and Marine Ltd, a Company interested in taking over the site, but until there are orders in place, the company would be unable to get their proposals off the ground.

Barry Hooper, Unite Union representative, said: “It seems highly odd that the government can pick and choose when they don’t want to implement a tender process.

“The government say it’s a situation of extreme urgency, but what could be more urgent that one of the last English shipyards closing, a couple of weeks before Brexit.”

Jake Mclean, GMB Union representative, said: “I don’t know what’s more depressing, the fact that government clearly does not see the loss of hundreds of jobs and Millions of pounds from the North Devon economy as an emergency, or that they think awarding a vital contract to charter ferries to a company that doesn’t own a single ferry.

“The government has lost all direction and sense of priority. They fail to step in and support a historic industry but are happy to award contracts to a ferry company that contracts its staff with fast food terms and conditions [4]. We’re beyond the pale.”

Matt Roberts, District Chair of the CSEU (Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions), said: “We have previously campaigned for the much-needed new Isles of Scilly ferry to be built at Appledore, and in light of their actions with the ‘no-deal’ Brexit ferries, unions see no reason whatsoever why Government can’t give the Scilly Isles group the interest-free loan they need to get this work started, which can then be done by Oil, Gas and Marine Ltd, a company we met with this week, or any new operator that comes forward, as their first order.

The loan for the last ferry was fully repaid, and this would tide Appledore over to enable more work to be lined up.

Talks are still at an early stage, and we don’t want to raise hopes, but currently Oil Gas and Marine Ltd are on common ground with our members about possible plans to diversify the yard to exploit new opportunities into general fabrication work as well as shipbuilding to give us the a long term, sustainable future for the yard. They just need a helping hand from the government to get started.

Together we can still keep Appledore open, but 15 March is fast approaching.”

The Government recently poured cold water on the idea of a new Scilly ferry being ordered at Appledore in a debate in the House of Lords.

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