An independent inquiry into the implications of the Government’s Trident Alternatives Review for the economy of Barrow-in-Furness – the location of the BAE Systems shipyard where new submarines to replace the current Trident submarines would be built – has concluded that the town is not facing a ‘Trident or nothing’ choice for protecting local jobs.
The inquiry – conducted by the Nuclear Education Trust – found that Barrow faces a range of different employment scenarios in future depending on the option that the government eventually selects for replacing Trident at the ‘main gate’ decision stage in 2016. Options short of ‘like-for-like’ replacement would be expected to lead to a step down in employment at the shipyard, but would not result in its closure.
One option under consideration in the Trident Alternatives Review – Astute class submarines armed with nuclear capable cruise missiles – would have no impact until the early 2030s, with others expected to lead to a step down to around 4,000 employees from the current level of 5,000 but giving certainty of work until the late 2020s.
An economic diversification and regeneration programme for Barrow would be possible in the event of complete cancellation of the Trident replacement programme, although this would be a “severe challenge” which could cost in excess of £100 million for every 1000 jobs safeguarded. A programme to bolster the local economy against such an eventuality would require transport infrastructure improvements, measures to allow Barrow to benefit from UK government and European Union investment funding, and government encouragement for BAE Systems to diversify its business at the Barrow shipyard.
The inquiry concluded that the government should accept responsibility for the economic future of Barrow, regardless of the Trident replacement option selected at main gate, and give a clear and binding statement of commitment to show political support for Barrow’s future.
During the inquiry Nuclear Education Trust received evidence from a range of pro-Trident and anti-Trident interests on the consequences of adopting different policy options for replacing Trident for Barrow’s economy. There was agreement that Barrow is highly dependent on nuclear weapons for employment, resulting in uncertainty and insecurity among the BAE Systems workforce in the town, and that the decision on Trident replacement will have significant consequences for employment in the area – although these might not have an immediate impact.
The inquiry also recommended that the findings of the government’s Trident Alternatives Review should be made public, with as much detail as possible released to help inform debate on the implications of the Review.
Commenting on the study, Madeline Held, Chair of the Nuclear Education Trust Board of Directors said: “Barrow is not facing an “all or nothing” choice – one where either 6,000 are employed on four “like for like” replacements for Trident submarines or all are made redundant. The fact that the debate is often misrepresented as a “binary” choice for Barrow – between continuity or complete catastrophe – is not helpful to rational discussion or evidence based policy making”.
“It is quite frankly unbelievable that at a time of austerity, when every item of public expenditure has to be justified to the Nth degree, that the single biggest proposed UK public investment programme has received so little public scrutiny. There should be a well-informed debate about all implications of Trident renewal.”