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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Jobs risk at BAE Systems Barrow - claim

SUBMARINE building in Barrow will be dramatically slowed down to save government cash if a defence plan is finally agreed.

SLOW DOWN: Astute class sub Ambush under construction at BAE Barrow. Plans to reschedule the building of the rest of the Astute class could put jobs at risk, the town’s Tory leader claims MIKE VALLANCE

Barrow’s Tory leader says he fears the slowdown could threaten jobs at the shipyard.

A National Audit Office report on major defence projects has revealed the plan to save cash in the short term by deferring the completion of three Astute class, nuclear-powered subs now being built at BAE by nine months each, and also to defer work beginning on boats number five, six and seven.

It would save the cash-strapped Ministry of Defence money in the short term – but would cost more to complete the submarines in the future.

A spokesman for the defence procurement department of the MoD said: “Work remains ongoing on re-baselining the Astute programme following the delays to boat one and the decision to slow down the build programme.

“The final impact on both the overall programme and individual boat build profile of the re-baselined schedule can only be confirmed once detailed joint planning and costing analyses have been completed, and Investment Appraisal Board, ministerial and Treasury re-approval has been obtained.
“An announcement will be made in due course.”

The slowdown would see Barrow completing a new submarine every two-and-a-half years instead of every 22 months.

BAE Submarine Solutions declined to comment until MoD plans are finalised.

Councillor Jack Richardson, Barrow senior Tory and the leader of Barrow Borough Council, said: “This does raise concerns.

“It does mean that in fact the job prospects at the shipyard are less secure than they should have been.”

Cllr Richardson said the government should be funding the Afghanistan war from a special budget like the one that funded the Falklands War in 1982, instead of raiding the core defence budget, which included projects like Astute.

He said: “It is short termism which is not in the best interests of Barrow or anywhere else with a defence industry.”

“If you have a boat going out every 30 months instead of every 22 months there must be job implications and it is going to cost more in the long term anyway.”

Cllr Richardson said if the changes go ahead he would be approaching BAE and demanding to know what the effect on jobs will be.

He said: “The government may see some sense at the last minute but I won’t hold my breath.”

An MoD spokesman told the Mail: “We recognise that the UK has a world-class submarine-building industry, particularly in Barrow, and acknowledge the importance of the Astute programme to the industry.

“We have been working closely with BAE Submarine Solutions to consider the impact of the delays to the Astute programme.

“Consistent with the Defence Industrial Strategy, we remain committed to delivering the submarine programme in a manner that ensures the long-term sustainability of the UK submarine industry.”

The National Audit Office report on major projects published at the end of last year said: “The decision required the department to constrain spending during the four years commencing 2009-10, by delaying the delivery of boats two to four and deferring the start of build of boats five to seven.

“The department expects this slowdown to yield a total reduction in spending of £139m in the years to 2013-14. After this time costs are forecast to increase by £539m.”

The NAO report added: “The decision to constrain expenditure during the four years commencing 2009-10 will not affect the first boat, but will slip the entry into service of each subsequent boat by an average of nine months.

“This is forecast to leave a period between 2015 and 2021 when there will be a shortfall of submarine availability against the department’s stated requirement.

“An extra £38m will be spent extending the lives of Trafalgar-class submarines which were built in Barrow in the 1980s and early 1990s.”

BAE has already experienced some work shortages but only for a handful of core workers who have been deployed on other tasks.

But the yard has been steadily shrinking its contract workforce.

Azza Samms, manual workers convenor at the yard, said a nine-month delay for each boat would have implications for jobs.

He said: “We are asking the company about this.”

Terry Waiting, chairman of the union-led Keep Our Future Afloat Campaign, said it had had no communication saying that boats would be delayed by nine months.

He said any rescheduling would be a matter for unions to negotiate over with BAE and added: “The important thing is that the government is still talking about seven Astute submarines and that has got to be good news.” (Original News)