Offshore tonic for UK shipbuilders

The sad decline of its shipbuilding sector is arguably one of the most potent symbols of the UK’s diminished status as an industrial superpower.

While dockyards from Cornwall to Cape Wrath once thrummed with activity and nautical endeavour, today’s shipbuilding industry is a shadow of its former self. And despite maintaining a leading presence in the defence industry, fears persist that the sector’s unique set of engineering skills honed, refined and passed down through successive generations are never more than a few shipyard closures away from extinction.

In recent years, there’s been plenty of talk about the potential rejuvenating impact of the offshore renewables sector; how skills learned in the shipyard could be redeployed in the development of offshore technologies. It’s a compelling notion, but not one that The Engineer had seen a great deal of evidence for until, that is, we were invited down to Falmouth’s famous dockyard to witness this phenomenon in action. Our report Wind of Change puts some flesh on the bones of a reassuring rumour.

This trend should acquire fresh momentum in the wake of last week’s carbon budget in which Chris Huhne announced measures designed to halve UK greenhouse-gas emissions by 2025. The targets will require huge changes in the way the UK generates and uses its energy, and will have major implications for every area of the industrial sector, not least the ship-building sector.

Earlier last year, in response to fears that the Coalition was about to pull the plug on plans to turn UK ports into renewable energy manufacturing hubs, Siemens threatened to pull out of a proposed wind-turbine manufacturing plant in the UK.

Thankfully, these plans are still going ahead. But the episode was a telling reminder of how signals from government can drive foreign investment. The latest measures should send a very strong message that the UK is serious about building a renewable energy industry and will hopefully drive further investment in the UK’s maritime infrastructure.

For more on the carbon budget and what it means for UK industry read our interview with Chris Huhne