Thousands of jobs at risk from defence spending cuts
Trade unionists are warning thousands of jobs in the South West are at risk from plans to cut the Ministry of Defence's £37 billion budget by up to a fifth.
The South West Defence Industries Alliance, a recently formed coalition of trade unionists working in defence, has issued an urgent wake-up call over the potential impact of the Government's Strategic Defence & Security Review to the region's economy.
Chancellor George Osborne has demanded the Ministry of Defence cut its £37 billion budget by 10-20%.
The Alliance is calling on everyone in the South West to unite against any cuts and wants people to write to Defence Secretary Liam Fox - also North Somerset MP - as a matter of urgency.
Alliance spokesman Mike Byfield said any cuts would have a devastating impact on the South West: 'We are very worried about the damage this defence review will do to jobs, to the skills base and to the wider economy.'
A Save Devonport petition has been launched by the GMB, Prospect, UCATT and Unite trade unions in Plymouth to campaign against significant cuts to the Royal Devonport Dockyard which, together with the Naval Base, generates 13% of Plymouth's income and plays an important role in the wider economy of Devon and Cornwall.
South West TUC regional secretary Nigel Costley said many people did not realise the importance of defence jobs to the South West's economy.
A report published in September this year by the Taunton-based South West Observatory, which provides regional data and analysis, found just under 3% of South West employment is related to defence or security. That amounts to 70,000 civil service defence or armed forces personnel.
In addition, many private sector defence firms such as Rolls Royce, GKN Aerospace, Airbus, BAE Systems, Thales, Babcock, Appledore Shipbuilding and others, have a substantial presence in the South West.
At least 13,000 people work in defence-related jobs in Bristol and South Gloucestershire, including 8,500 at the main armed forces' procurement body DE&S (Defence, Equipment & Support), headquartered in Bristol at MoD Abbey Wood.
'In Plymouth, 20,000 jobs are estimated to be directly or indirectly related to Devonport Royal Dockyard,' said Mr Costley.
'The South West Observatory report showed 37% of England's civil service defence jobs are based in the South West, along with 29% of England's regular armed forces personnel, including more than half of the Navy personnel.
'In aerospace alone, there are 43,000 full-time employees and another 100,000 in the supply chain, of which about 50% is defence-related activity.'
In addition, more than one in 10 manufacturing jobs in South Gloucestershire, South Somerset, Plymouth, and parts of Cornwall and Dorset are defence-related and nearly one in 12 manufacturing jobs across the South West as a whole fall directly within defence, according to a recent report by analysts Oxford Economics1.
Projects feared to be under threat in the review include:
two major aircraft-building programmes, the A330 refuelling plane and the A400M military transport plane, plus the RAF's fleet of fast jets, which would hit Airbus and Rolls Royce in Bristol;
plans to expand the Royal Navy's fleet of frigates and destroyers plus major reductions to its amphibious fleet of landing ships, which would hit Devonport and Falmouth Docks;
the programme to build two new aircraft carriers, which would hit Appledore Shipyard in North Devon;
Army troop numbers which may be cut by 20,000; Navy personnel which may be cut by up to 6,000; and big reductions in civilian defence staff.
Mr Costley said defence jobs tended to be highly skilled and better paid than many industries, such as tourism, so losing them would have an even greater impact on the region's economy.
He added: 'Defence companies also spend a lot on research and development and that attracts clusters of related industries such as communications and information technology. For example, the South West has become a leading European centre for new wireless businesses and has the highest concentration of semiconductor design companies in Europe.'
Mike Byfield, who is also the Unite convenor at Airbus, said cutting defence jobs would also have a huge impact on the wider network of smaller suppliers.
He said the Oxford Economics report showed that for every job created in the defence industry, 1.6 jobs were created elsewhere in the economy.
It would also have a detrimental impact on the Armed Forces. 'Defence workers in the South West are proud to support our Armed Forces by supplying the finest British-made equipment available,' said Mr Byfield.
'We firmly believe that the threat of losing sovereign capability will threaten the long-term sustainability of UK high tech engineering and manufacturing jobs, many thousands of which are in the South West.
'If the Government acts too quickly on the Strategic Defence & Security Review without fully thinking through the consequences of losing sovereign capability, equipment will have to be bought from overseas which will be inferior and the UK tax payer will not receive value for money.'
Mr Byfield said once highly skilled jobs were lost, it was very hard to replace them: 'BAE found this out when they stopped their submarine building programme - it took them 10 years to rebuild those skills.'
Defence in the South West2
37% of England's civil service defence jobs are based in the South West
29% of regular armed force personnel stationed in England are based in the South West
39% of South West armed forces personnel are in Wiltshire and Swindon, including 16,400 personnel and 22,500 defence-related civil servants, accounting for 7% of the workforce
28% (11,800) of South West armed forces personnel are based in the Devon, Plymouth and Torbay area, mainly Royal Navy (10,700)
The Royal Navy also has 3,000 jobs in Cornwall and 3,000 in Somerset
29% of defence-related civil service jobs are in the West of England (8,300), 22% in Gloucestershire (6,400).
1 'The economic case for investing in the UK defence industry' - report by Oxford Economics, Sept 2009
2 Figures taken from 'Impact of Public Sector Spending Cuts' - report by the South West Observatory, Sept 2010
Issued: 5 October, 2010