Earlier this week, Harland & Wolff was delighted to host the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee as part of its inquiry into defence spending levels across the UK.

Ministry of Defence spending in Northern Ireland remains significantly lower than in other parts of the UK, with defence procurement and services spend sitting at just £100 per head compared with £380 in Scotland. The committee set up an inquiry earlier this year to examine the factors contributing to this trend and explore opportunities to support Northern Ireland’s defence sector.

During discussions at Harland & Wolff’s Belfast site, MPs from all political spectrums reiterated their commitment to strengthening Northern Ireland’s defence industry and its wider institutions to support innovation, job creation, and economic stability in the region. It was also agreed that investing in graduates and apprentices is crucial to making the Northern Irish defence industry as competitive as possible over the long term. Harland & Wolff has invested millions in training, supported by significant increases in turnover due to recent contract wins, with 150 apprentices currently at work and a total 200 expected this summer.

As part of its visit to Belfast, the committee witnessed the extensive works underway to upgrade and expand Harland & Wolff’s facilities in preparation for the company’s Fleet Solid Support (FSS) sub-contract. This contract will see Harland & Wolff build three 40,000-tonne vessels for the Royal Navy and invest £77 million in new shipyard infrastructure and technology. Harland & Wolff’s workforce is expanding, with 1,500 current employees and expected peaks of 2,500 during high-demand periods.

In September last year, work began to improve the existing fabrication halls at Harland & Wolff, and the framework for an extension to the new fabrication hall in Belfast is currently taking shape. Work in preparation for the FSS contract continues at pace, and production remains on track to start as planned. Harland & Wolff is expected to employ 1,200 personnel across its Belfast and Appledore shipyards throughout the contract’s duration.

In addition to cutting edge automation and robotic machinery capabilities, the improvements include a 5,000m2 extension to the existing fabrication halls and will facilitate up to 16m2 of automated fabrication panels. All of which will position Harland & Wolff as the most technologically advanced shipyard in the UK after FSS, well placed to support future defence and commercial programmes.

Harland & Wolff has revitalised its four core sites at Appledore, Arnish, Belfast, and Methil, which were brought back to life from closures and administrations. This effort embodies the government’s ambition for sovereign shipbuilding capability and the National Shipbuilding Strategy. The workforce at Harland & Wolff is maximising UK-manufactured content, supporting growth and security in Northern Ireland, Devon, the Outer Hebrides, and Fife.

During the visit, Harland & Wolff presented to the committee a series of future programmes that the company can help deliver, including Project Euston, the Multi-Role Support Ship, and the Multi-Role Vessel for the Irish Naval Service. Additionally, the company briefed members on current defence work beyond the FSS programme, such as the regeneration of HMS Quorn for the Lithuanian Navy, a cable barge, and a dock gate for Portsmouth Dockyard.

Harland & Wolff is crucial for Northern Ireland and the UK, particularly in enhancing the UK’s sovereign shipbuilding capabilities. The visit gave committee members even greater confidence in the region’s capabilities as it continues its inquiry.

John Wood, CEO of Harland & Wolff, said:

“It was a great pleasure to host members of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at our Belfast shipyard. Their visit underscores the critical role that Harland & Wolff plays in the economic fabric of Northern Ireland and the sovereign capability of the UK. We were delighted to show the committee the significant progress underway to deliver the Fleet Solid Support (FSS) programme and discuss how Harland & Wolff could contribute to future Ministry of Defence projects. We were also pleased that the group witnessed the Canadian SeaRose vessel and US cruise liners in for work, demonstrating our strong and growing export business.”

Stephen Farry MP and Carla Lockhart MP, members of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, commented after the visit.

Stephen Farry MP said:

“The regrowth of shipbuilding in Northern Ireland is crucial to our economy. Harland & Wolff plays an essential role in driving this success, preserving our shipbuilding heritage while pushing us into the future through investment into the facilities in Belfast with many exciting new projects such as the Fleet Solid Support and M55 naval contracts.”

Carla Lockhart MP said:

“It was a pleasure visiting Harland & Wolff and meeting its skilled team of apprentices, who are the undoubted future of shipbuilding in Northern Ireland, and excellent to see great progress in the recapitalisation works for the Fleet Solid Support programme.  Harland & Wolff plays a crucial role in the growth of this vital industry through its investment in jobs and facilities and has a future pipeline of contracts which will help Northern Ireland cement its place at the forefront of shipbuilding.”