Government urged to ‘stop dithering’ over aerospace’s future

By Lancashire Business View

11 Oct 2017

Calls were growing louder today for the government to end the uncertainty facing thousands of defence workers in Lancashire by committing to build the next generation fighter jet in the UK.

There was growing anger over the amount of British defence spending with US companies and the government was urged to back Britain and “Buy British”.

Concerned politicians of all sides and union leaders said more support was needed following the news that up to 1,400 plane-making jobs are to be axed by defence British Aerospace – with 750 going at Warton and Samlesbury in Lancashire.

One angry union leader told the government to “get off its behind and stop dithering” if it wants to save the UK’s highly skilled aerospace jobs.

Ross Murdoch, national officer at the GMB union, added: “The Prime Minister must step up to the plate and forge trade deals with overseas partner countries, as well as delivering a cast-iron commitment now to build the next generation fighter planes.”

Britain’s biggest defence union Unite also called for a commitment on the next generation fighter, which would follow the F-35 Lightning II, which is currently in production. Parts of it are being built in the UK, but it is a US-led project.

The union estimates that by 2020, 25 per cent of the UK’s defence spend will be benefiting American factories and companies such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin, which is leading the F-35 programme.

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: “These planned job cuts will not only undermine Britain’s sovereign defence capability, but devastate communities across the UK who rely on these skilled jobs and the hope of a decent future they give to future generations.

“These devastatingly short sighted cuts will harm communities, jobs and skills. These are world class workers with years of training and expertise on which an additional four jobs rely upon in the supply chain.”

He added: “The UK government must take back control of our nation’s defence and with it, play its part in supporting UK defence manufacturing jobs.

“Too much taxpayers' money earmarked for defence spending is going to factories overseas. This state of affairs is not only hollowing out Britain's sovereign defence capability and British manufacturing, but leaving the nation's defence exposed to the whim of foreign powers and corporate interests.”

BAE Systems confirmed plans to cut up to 1,400 roles in its Military Air business over the next three years as part of almost 2,000 job losses across the group.

There are fears of a knock-on effect in supply chain operations that employ thousands more workers across the UK.

The bombshell news has stunned communities in Lancashire, where a large proportion of the aerospace jobs will go. The county is the UK's number one region for aerospace employment, with around 17,000 directly employed in the sector.

BAE Systems employs 34,000 workers across the UK, including its two Lancashire plants at Warton and Samlesbury, where some 10,000 are employed.

The job cuts are linked to the on-going slowdown of the Typhoon and Hawk aircraft programmes. Both aircraft are built in Lancashire.

Chorley Labour MP Lindsay Hoyle, who has many constituents employed by the defence giant, has called for a cross-party task force to look at the situation.

He said:  “We need real leadership from the top – that means BAE Systems chief executive Charles Woodburn and the Prime Minister talking today and taking action.

“Lancashire builds the best fighter jets in the world because we have the best work force in the world.”

Preston Labour MP Mark Hendrick also said he wanted to see more support for the aerospace sector from the government.

He added: “BAE Systems has not long opened its fantastic £15.6m training centre at Samlesbury. I am concerned to see the long-term future of our young people secured and the training centre reach its full potential.”

And Ribble Valley Tory MP Nigel Evans, who also has large numbers of aerospace workers in his constituency, added: “Not only is the company vital for the livelihoods of a small army of workers, it is crucial for a significant number of small-to-medium sized businesses that rely on BAE across the country.”

Unite’s Steve Turner added: “The British government can and should do more to defend UK defence jobs by investing in Britain and committing that long term projects, such as the next generation jet fighter, future support vessels and Type 31e frigate are built here in the UK.

“A failure to do so and take back control of our own defence needs will be a complete betrayal of the government’s primary responsibility to defend our nation and destroy decent jobs, skills and the communities that support them in the process."

He added:  “At a time of Brexit, these are precisely the kind of jobs that the UK government should be protecting. Rather than shipping our defence spend overseas to factories in America and cutting defence, ministers should be investing in jobs, skills and communities by buying British.”

In its statement outlining the job losses BAE Systems said: “Our Military Air UK operations will continue to benefit from the ramp-up of F-35 Lightning II production at Samlesbury to reach steady state production rates by 2020.

“Responsible for manufacturing 10 per cent of every F-35 aircraft globally at our UK operations, we expect to maintain steady state production from 2020 well into the next decade. “The business also benefits from significant support activities across Typhoon, Hawk and F-35, and we continue to invest in the technologies, skills and capabilities that are critical to maintain our leading position in military aircraft design, engineering, advanced manufacturing and support.”

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