Letter to the Clerk of the Committee from
Prospect on the Future of Royal Ordnance FactoriesBirtley,
Bridgwater and Chorley (25 January 2002)
I enclose two papers supplied by our local representatives
at Royal Ordnance Birtley and Bridgwater. As you will see, both
papers have set out a series of questions which I hope the Committee
will find useful in probing the issues affecting these two sites
with the Ministry of Defence and British Aerospace. The arguments
surrounding Chorley are somewhat different as in essence the future
of the site is very much tied up with a commercial arrangement
it has with a company called David Bickford and in particular
the production of Initiators for the car industry. I do not, therefore,
think the issues associated with Chorley are as significant for
the Defence Committee as the futures of Birtley and Bridgwater,
nevertheless, when I have more information I will pass this on.
The first set of questions from Birtley are
really trying to ascertain further information. To date they surround
particular technical aspects of work carried out at Birtley in
support of various MoD projects, either directly or via British
The second paper supplied by Bridgwater really
touches on issues of security of supply and/or of transportation
of material should Bridgwater close, i.e. the consequence for
the safe transportation of, and stock holding of, materials in
the UK that would be supplied predominantly from US sources. The
paper from Bridgwater also touches on some politically sensitive
issues, i.e. the US's stance on land mines.
The Trade Unions in Royal Ordnance have been
grateful to the Committee's work and in particular the consequences
for the long-term Partnering Arrangements with the MoD, and there
is no doubt that this Partnering Agreement is creating, for some
factories, a greater degree of stability and we now have some
visibility of a medium to longer term future for Royal Ordnance
within British Aerospace. Nevertheless, there is a significant
suspicion that the Partnering Arrangement with BAE/RO has been
used to create some strategic alliances with overseas manufacturers
and has therefore meant that the Partnering Agreement is supplying
jobs outside of the UK. It will be helpful if the Committee were
to ask RO Defence for the breakdown of the workloads and product
lines that fall within the Partnering Arrangement and to indicate
which products supplied to the MoD are being provided either by
direct manufacturing of overseas companies or through purchase.
I hope this information is helpful, again I
apologise for not getting back to you as quickly as I initially
1. Can the Committee enquire with the MoD
directly and provide the five-year demand for ammunition? In addition,
there should also be 10-year projections of ammunition demands.
(Need to confirm that the Birtley SOP properly reflects the demands
of ammunition from the MoD).
2. Could the Committee request BAE, RO Defence
provide information on the enquiries and responses received from
the Company over the last two years?
Has the Company responded quickly to each of
More specially, what enquiries have the Company
declined to quote for?
3. Seek clarification from ROD, BAE and
MoD that overseas customers would be satisfied with empty ammunition
being manufactured overseas and supplied as a UK product.
4. What is the estimated lost revenue for
the Government, eg Income taxes, Benefits payments etc of historic
RO Birtley work being carried out overseas?
5. The Partnering agreement between the
MoD and Royal Ordnance was agreed and put in place to stabilise
the Company and provide a five-year forward view of the MoD's
Should these orders be used by the Company to
guarantee indigenous supply of ammunition to the MoD and to maintain
Royal Ordnance manufacturing base, including Birtley?
6. Following the Defence Select Committee
Report, concerning the security of supply and future of RO Bishopton.
Has there been any post audit activity concerning
the contract with South Africa?
Is there any information available that details
the technical performance to contract, delivery performance and
actual cost to contract?
7. What work has been conducted by the MoD,
including the Ordnance Board, to confirm re-qualification of the
products manufactured at Birtley midway through contract on both
raw material source and also the finished product?
Prepared by the Royal Ordnance Birtley Trade
Security of Supply
1. If Bridgwater was to cease to manufacture
then explosives would have to be imported from America (or other
supplier), this would require a very large stockpile of explosives
for production purposes.
What would the cost be to provide suitable security
arrangements to guard the huge amounts of stockpiled material?
2. There is an increased risk in safety
in transportation in two areas:
(a) Terrorism and (b) Normal shipping and road
3. By keeping the only military high explosive
manufacturing facility in the UK the Government is in total control
of its foreign policy i.e. no foreign Government would be able
to interfere with the supply of explosives, as was seen in the
Middle East conflict when Belgium refused to lend Britain supplies.
4. As already stated, there are increased
risks in further distances of transportation. What is the cost
benefit of transportation of American explosive in comparison
to Bridgwater explosive production?
This needs to include paperwork, packaging,
end user certificates, handling etc and also the important point
of if/when BAE systems lose the contract to run the American (Holston)
explosive plant. This point is developed further under point three
of the Political/Commercial situation section.
1. The Woolwich versus Bachman question,
the Woolwich process for the production of RDX produces an explosive
that is inherently safer due to the high purity. RDX (B.UK) is
inherently more stable as the quantity and quality of HMX that
is added is better controlled. Note that for many existing compositions
Woolwich RDX is specifically required.
So are the MoD/RO more interested in the cheapest
option or the safest option? If it is cost then it has to be purchased
from America as RO has limited overheads due to operating the
American Government's explosive plant on contract.
If it is the safe option then RO Bridgwater
would be retained or if RO wants to shut down the country's only
military high explosive manufacturer and the UK Government are
prepared to allow this to happen, then the explosive should be
purchased from a country like France, who produce the Woolwich
2. Insensitive munitions (IM) is the complete
weapons system which includes booster pellets, the IM booster
pellets require N7 which is only produced at Bridgwater. Bridgwater
provides the USA with this product, as the USA does not have the
facility to manufacture the major ingredient for this composition.
1. The UK Government has signed up to the
Ottawa Convention, the USA have refused on numerous occasions
to sign the convention.
BAE Systems are a British company operating
the American Government's explosives facility at Holston.
What would be the company's and UK Government
position if the American Government required the Holston Site
to produce explosives for land mines which is in complete contravention
of the Ottawa convention?
BAE Systems has a 25-year contract to run the
American Government's explosive facility at Holston, which can
be reviewed by either side every five years. If BAE Systems do
not play ball would they lose the contract and where would that
leave Britain let alone BAE Systems?
2. The UK Government allows UK companies
to sell arms to "friendly Middle East countries".
The American Government has a considerably tighter
policy regarding sales to Middle East countries.
3. BAE Systems has at most a 25-year contract
to run the American Government's explosive facility, there will
be approximately 15 years at most remaining if the Bridgwater
What is the long-term thinking and plans for
the UK procurement of explosives after that time?
For information purposes it is rare for a company
to win a second term contract with the American Government.
Strategic Nuclear Requirements
1. RO Bridgwater produces certain strategic
material for the British nuclear program (this is different from
the American program), if Bridgwater closes where would the UK
Government source these materials and how would they requalify
Is it Royal Ordnance's plan to totally close
the Bridgwater site?