Letter to the Chairman of the Committee
from Royal Ordnance Birtley Apprentices (4 February 2002)
I am writing to you on behalf of 12 apprentices
currently serving our time, at RO Birtley. The three trades are
Electrician, Millwright, and Machinist. On 6 December 2001 RO
Defence announced the potential closure of Royal Ordnance Defence,
Birtley, subject to a manufacturing review, with the loss of 298
jobs. Needless to say we are all concerned as to what the future
holds for us with incomplete training.
The manufacturing review is currently underway
with RO senior management defending a financial statement that
claims they can obtain our products cheaper on the open market,
from a combination of UK and overseas companies. Local representatives
are currently challenging the company's claims and will continue
to do so for the duration of the review.
BAe senior management keep telling us we need
to get away from dumb bombs and go to smart ammunition but unfortunately
they have completely under invested in RO Birtley since their
takeover in 1987. For example one out of the ten workshops has
only had 3 new machines in that time for finishing work on the
Charm 3 project. These machines cost just under £500,000.
We have just recruited 4 further maintenance workers to try to
cope with all the breakdowns on the dilapidated machinery we have.
Following the takeover BAe sold Royal Ordnance
sites at Enfield, Waltham Abbey and Patricroft earning themselves
a tidy sum to keep their ailing aircraft business going at the
time. They have cut back Birtley's workforce significantly to
BAe now say they want to close RO Birtley, and
ROSM and dispose of Chorley and Summerfield this on the back of
the recent closures of RO Bishopton, Blackburn and Nottingham
leaving only a few RO sites. They say Birtley is geographically
in the wrong place, well we have been here over 75 years and we
are a lot closer than South Africa or Czeck Republic where they
claim they may buy components in future.
There is also the problem of offsets where BAe
give away our work in exchange for orders for aircraft. RO Birtley
lost a huge part of a 155 shell order for UK MOD approximately
two years ago due to this.
I would also like to suggest that the MOD looks
closely at its partnering agreement with RO, closing these sites
is hardly in the spirit of the agreement and the multi year buy
which we thought secured our jobs for the first time in years.
It would be a tragedy if the site closed when our relationship
with the UK MOD has the potential to grow stronger than ever.
Can you imagine the UK not having it's own ammunition
manufacturing facilities? Apart from being the laughing stock
of the world, what will happen if the UK becomes involved in a
conflict like the Falklands when our European partners decline
to supply us with shells again? There is also the local skill
base to be taken into consideration and the knock on effect for
Following the announcement local MP's John McWilliams
and Kevan Jones have visited the factory, an early day motion
has been registered and a meeting with relevant ministers is being
Could I ask you to support the indigenous ammunition
manufacture, and our bid to save RO Birtley.