Select Committee on Defence Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


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 just 298.

  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 suppliers.

  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 arranged.

  Could I ask you to support the indigenous ammunition manufacture, and our bid to save RO Birtley.

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