Decision offers Barrow a new lease of life.
By JAMES WILSON
15 March 2007
(c) 2007 The Financial Times Limited. All rights reserved
For Adam, an apprentice at BAE Systems' Barrow-in-Furness shipyard, last night's news that the next generation of weaponry was to go ahead is a welcome reassurance that not only he, but also his home town, have a future.
Defeat, he had warned the day before the vote, would have left him and his colleagues "out of a job without anywhere else to go . . . the only money in the town is down the -shipyard".
No one had taken victory for granted. "There is confidence but it is not a done deal," one engineer had confided on Tuesday as he lingered near a sign reading "Nuclear Site Boundary". "This town needs BAE. There's a lot of jobs depending on it."
Last night, Terry Waiting, chairman of a trade union-led "Keep Our Future Afloat" campaign to secure naval orders for Barrow, said he was delighted. "This will keep the design team and engineers employed by BAE. It is the first step on a long road: even after tonight it is not agreed that we are going to build it. But it is good news."
For more than a century Royal Navy submarines have been built in Barrow, an isolated town dependent on heavy industry. Thousands of jobs disappeared at its shipyard during the 1990s and 1,400 more were cut in 2003 and 2004. Fears mounted that the yard, which built Britain's first nuclear submarine in the 1960s, was on the verge of becoming unviable.
Today the yard has several years of guaranteed work building the Astute class of Navy submarines and em-ployment has risen from 2,600 in 2004 to 3,500. But the Trident decision was nevertheless crucial in generating orders to fill the 51m-high Devonshire Dock Hall that looms over the town.
BAE says it needs a re-gular "drumbeat" of orders for nuclear submarines to maintain an experienced workforce. Stuart Klosinski, industrial development manager at Furness Enterprise, a local business support agency, says Barrow is home to leading-edge technology that has other spin-offs, such as for any civil nuclear reactor programme.
Some opponents say a decision to commit now to renew Trident should not be driven by the demands of BAE's order book. However, Mr Waiting, also the leader of the Labour group on Barrow council, says: "The jobs that we have in the shipyard put about Pounds 74m a year into the local economy. These are highly skilled jobs and they give people in schools and colleges some hope of a good career and a good living."
Barrow insists the benefits of a submarine programme are widely distributed. According to Kofac, about 60 per cent of the cost of the Astute submarine is placed with contractors other than BAE. The programme puts Pounds 230m into the supply chain in northern England, of which only Pounds 80m is in the same postcode area as Barrow. The Midlands benefits to the tune of Pounds 280m. "This is a programme for many places, not just Barrow," Mr Klosinski says.