THE former head of the Royal Navy yesterday accused the government of lying about delays to a crucial Clyde shipbuilding contract – because the Ministry of Defence has “run out of money”.

Admiral Lord West yesterday hit out against “bloody dangerous” delays to the Type 26 frigate programme, claiming this could cost jobs, lead to spiralling costs and jeopardise national security.

Appearing before a Commons defence committee inquiry into the project, the former First Sea Lord criticised the Treasury for failing to see “long term issues” and rubbished government claims that the build has been pushed back by design problems.

Workers at the Govan and Scotstoun yards on the River Clyde were supposed to begin construction of the first new frigate this year.

However, the committee heard this may now be postponed until the start of 2018 and John Hudson, managing director of yards boss BAE Systems said he was unable to provide answers because his firm is still in “detailed negotiations” with the Ministry of Defence.

Douglas Chapman, MP for Dunfermline and West Fife, questioned West on whether the hold up was caused by design problems, Treasury failings or a “lack of political will”.

West answered: “There’s almost no money extra available this year. We are really strapped next year. The government aren’t coming clean about that. I think if they did the British people would understand.

“To pretend that actually, ‘oh no, we’re going to order all of these, they are really important but there are little problems with design and things’ is, I’m afraid, being economical with the actuality.

“The reality is there is not enough money in the Ministry of Defence this year and next year. We have run out of money, effectively. Therefore, they have pushed this programme to the right. That is bloody dangerous because whenever we do that we end up costing more money.”

West, who headed the force from 1997-2007, said the navy was now smaller than the task force sent to the Falklands in 1982 and emphasised the need for enough boats to patrol British waters, protect trade routes and respond to global incidents.

The Labour peer compared the current situation to that seen in the 1990s when John Major’s government delayed an announcement on the building of Astute class submarines.

He said: “It has taken almost 20 years to get submarine building back on track properly and has cost an extra three-quarters-of-a-billion more than if we had got on with it then.

“This is where the Treasury don’t see the long term thing and we are in danger of doing the same thing with our surface warship capability of the Type 26.

“Every delay costs you money. You need a steady drumbeat of orders to keep high tech industries going.”

Serious concerns about 800 potential job losses on the Clyde were raised by unions earlier this year when news of the programme push-back leaked.

Yesterday Duncan McPhee, manual convener of Unite, said those fears remain, telling the committee the 2,300-strong workforce is “very concerned” and that the numbers of new apprentices has fallen from 100 last year to 20 this year.

The changes could leave the yards overstaffed for at least two years and McPhee called on the Ministry of Defence and the government to “live up” to the promises made to workers.

In the run up the independence referendum, UK ministers repeatedly stated that only remaining in the union would guarantee continued defence contracts for the Clyde and that the historic yards would close without them.

However, a promised order of 13 frigates was subsequently scaled back to eight and, when news of the delay leaked, GMB Scotland accused the government of lying to workers.

Yesterday the committee heard that the current Type-23 frigates were only designed to last 17 years, based on the thickness of steel used for their hulls.

The last was commissioned in 2001 and West said delays to the building programme could see the numbers of useable vessels drop to a “grossly inadequate” level.

Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, who was also a First Sea Lord, said the navy was “underfunded” and a failure to replace ageing boats would lead to “some very, very old ladies” on defence duties.

Defence expert Peter Roberts of the Royal United Services Institute think tank said there was a £750 million gap between what has been committed for the Type-26 programme and what is needed, adding: “There isn’t a capability question but I think there will be as we go ahead. What it’s going to mean for the Clyde is very significant.”

Hudson said: “We are in detailed negotiations with the MoD as to the build programme for the Type 26.

“Until those discussions are complete I am not in a position to be able to advise what the cut steel date might by for the Type 26 programme.”