Latest: Harland and Wolff dismiss 'inaccurate speculation' after report that Belfast's shipyard is at risk of closure

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Harland and Wolff (H&W) has dismissed “inaccurate speculation” when asked about a report that it is facing possible closure.

The company, which employs about 1,500 people (though not all in Belfast) was reacting to an article in The Times headlined “Titanic shipyard risks closure after 160 years”.

The article says that chancellor Jeremy Hunt “is expected to block a financial support package designed to keep the Harland & Wolff shipbuilding company in Belfast afloat” which could mean A) that the yard might shut, and B) that as a result some of the warship work which H&W is contracted to do could be carried out abroad instead – something which would be a first in the history of the Royal Navy.

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The general workers’ GMB union said its staff were “concerned”, whilst engineering union Prospect said the report was “another blow to highly-skilled UK shipyard workers”.

Harland and Wolff shipyard in east Belfast has been going since 1861 (though Samson and Goliath were built in the 1960s and 70s)Harland and Wolff shipyard in east Belfast has been going since 1861 (though Samson and Goliath were built in the 1960s and 70s)
Harland and Wolff shipyard in east Belfast has been going since 1861 (though Samson and Goliath were built in the 1960s and 70s)

The firm was founded 1861 by Sir Edward James Harland (a Yorkshireman) and Gustav Wilhelm Wolff (a German-British man).

It has had a complex history; it was nationalised in the 1970s, became part of Norway’s Olsen shipping empire in 1989, sold much of its land to what is now the Titanic Quarter just after the millennium, and went into administration in 2019 – before being bought out by energy firm InfraStrata.

It now owns a smaller yard in Devon and two in Scotland, too.

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It operates, in its own words, “one of the biggest dry docks in Europe” in Belfast, which is one of only a handful of shipyards in the UK capable of doing “complex defence projects”.

Harland and Wolff shipyard in east BelfastHarland and Wolff shipyard in east Belfast
Harland and Wolff shipyard in east Belfast

It is understood the “financial support package” referred to in The Times’ report is the ‘UKEF Export Development Guarantee’.

This “helps companies who export from, or plan to export from the UK, access high-value loan facilities”.

In simple terms, it is a guarantee that the government will vouch for the firm applying for the loan, and will pay the bank back 80% of the money owed if the loan goes bad.

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H&W said: “Our application for a UKEF Export Development Guarantee has not been rejected and the process is ongoing. We will not comment further on inaccurate speculation.”

According to the London Stock Exchange, the firm’s share price is 10.2p per share as of 3.40pm today.

It had begun the day at 11.7p before dipping to 8.2p then rebounding.

That is down from a five-year high of 82.4p in June 2019.

Later on, it issued the following, bigger statement “to reassure shareholders”.

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H&W said that “discussions continue” over its loan guarantee, and “management remain comfortable with progress… a further update will be provided in the next few weeks”.

It said H&W is “working through its five-year plan, which has seen four shipyards and fabrication facilities rebuilt or refurbished, a pipeline of contracted work secured and increasing amounts of work delivered” and that it is seeing “substantial growth” on its energy and cruise contracts.

Meanwhile its warship work goes on, with the skeleton of an extension to its indoor factory facility in Belfast “taking shape”.

John Wood, CEO of the H&W group, said: "We were disappointed to read this article [in The Times] and the reaction it has caused, given that we have grown the business to become a major player in the UK shipbuilding sector, whilst spreading our risk over multiple markets.”

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