On Tuesday morning Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram revived a multi-million pound plan for a new Mersey Ferry – but there is confusion about where the vessel will be built. Tony McDonough reports
Delight at the announcement of the first new Mersey Ferry to be built for 60 years has turned to dismay in some quarters over suggestions it may be built in The Netherlands.
On Tuesday morning Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram said the multi-million pound plan to build a new ferry, first announced in 2018, was to be revived.
He confirmed the build of the new vessel, and an overhaul of one of the existing ferries, would likely be carried out in a joint project between two shipbuilders – Cammell Laird in Birkenhead and Damen Shipyards Group in the Netherlands.
This was originally revealed by LBN in March 2022. The contract and the final details have still to be agreed. However, on Tuesday afternoon there was confusion over exactly where the vessel, believed to be costing around £24m, would be built.
Sharon Graham, secretary general of Unite the union which represents many of the workers at Cammell Laird, claimed the main build would take place in The Netherlands. Cammell Laird, she added, would undertake the overhaul of one of the existing ferries while making finishing touches to the new one.
She claims if Cammell Laird was to take on the main build it would secure the jobs of 120 people for a 12 to 18-month period. Total workforce at Cammell Laird currently numbers just under 700.
“This is a complete betrayal of a local and highly skilled workforce. It defies belief that a new Mersey ferry won’t be built on the river the ship will serve,” said Ms Graham.
“This is a wholesale failure of the Government’s procurement policy, which continues to undermine strategic British industries and threatens jobs and skills.”
LBN has been told that Unite’s claim that the ferry would simply be finished off in Birkenhead are wide of that mark and that the work done locally would be much more substantial.
Cammell Laird told LBN it was unable to comment on exact details due to the “ongoing procurement process”.
Chief executive David McGinley added: “As the main contractor, Cammell Laird is looking forward to playing its part in delivering the next Mersey Ferry, a project which will provide an affordable vessel to the people of Merseyside, whilst supporting shipbuilding and hundreds of jobs across the Liverpool city region.”
A joint statement from Mayor Rotheram and six council leaders of the Liverpool city region says: “There has been a ferry between Liverpool and the Wirral since at least the 12th century and this announcement ensures that this proud tradition will continue for decades to come.
“As city region leaders we have tried at every turn to ensure that we use the powers we do have to squeeze as much local value, investment and opportunity as possible for the city region economy when we procure major infrastructure projects, in line with our Social Value Framework.
“We understand Unite’s frustrations with the Government’s restrictive procurement laws which constrain the way public bodies are able to tender for projects such as the Mersey Ferries and other large scale infrastructure investments. Especially given the Government’s promises about procurement during the Brexit referendum.
“As public servants, we have a duty to ensure that we spend taxpayers’ money in a way that delivers the best possible outcomes for local businesses, residents and communities alike, and that is why we have worked hard with Cammell Laird and the relevant unions to get to this point.
“The contract being discussed here is one between the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority and Cammell Laird. It is for the shipbuilder to decide how and where it subcontracts out work.
“We are explicitly restricted by legislation from specifying that 100% of any works have to be built in any specific locality. Instead, these conversations are a matter for unions and management to resolve through their own discussions.
“The reality of the situation is that, as a Combined Authority, we are legally bound to comply with the laws of the land. It is not within our power to override or break procurement law and dictate how businesses should proceed with the contracts awarded. To do so would leave us open to potential legal action, the costs of which would need to be borne by the public purse.
“The current boats are older than the Gerry Marsden song that made them famous. It is good news today that the proud legacy of the ferry cross the Mersey has not only been preserved for generations to come but made fit for the future with this brand new, greener lower emissions vessel.”
There are currently two vessels operating the Mersey Ferries service – Snowdrop and Royal Iris. Both are in constant use for the daily river cruises, the morning and evening commuter service and special voyages such as trips up the Manchester Ship Canal.
Due to the high cost of maintenance and running the vessels, it is thought investment in a new ferry is the best way of ensuring the services long-term future.