Select Committee on Defence Written Evidence

Memorandum from Prospect

  1.  I am writing on behalf of the Trade Union Prospect which represents scientist and professional staff in the former Royal Ordnance Factories (ROF's) now owned by Bae Systems.

  2.  We are in favour of the Government having a coherent Defence Industrial Strategy (DIS) and we support the overall policy aims of the DIS. We have particular concern about the ability of the MoD to obtain security for supply, in particular for small arms ammunition and high explosive, particularly the strategically imported warhead initiator TATB if Bae Systems planned closure of the ROF at Chorley (small arms) and Bridgwater (high explosives) goes ahead.

  3.  We believe that the decisions to close the two factories were made before any discussion about the DIS and its potential impacts had taken place and as such the Committee should now review the decisions and the future of the whole former ROF business in the light of your deliberations on the DIS.

  Our comments are set out below:

BRIDGEWATER (a)  Bridgewater is the only site manufacturing military explosives in the UK.

    (b)  With closure Britain will lose all national capability for the production of military explosives.

    (c)  Every military product used by the UK's arm forces containing explosives—bombs, missiles even some small arms and gun propellants would have part of its production in the hands of a foreign owned provider. Foreign governments have in the past refused to sell the UK Government military products where its proposed use was not in accordance with their own foreign policy (Belgium and the refusal to sell 155mm shells 1996).

    (d)  The decision would be almost impossible to reverse. In 1938 it took two years to build a fully productive factory using materials and skilled personnel from pre-existing factories.

    (e)  The defence strategies of our European and transatlantic allies clearly show a marked preference for a fully integrated military industrial strategy. The decision to close the factories will move Britain significantly out of step with our allies "France can enter Joint Ventures and Partnerships but must preserve its capabilities and the capacity to develop and manufacture alone if necessary" (French Government Defence Procurement Policy and industrial Strategy').

    (f)  Britain will lose the ability to manufacture and supply necessary products at short notice as was shown by the rapid production of active armour during Gulf War 1.

    (g)  There are issues with the certification of imported weapons systems by the Ordnance Board.

    (h)  Bae Systems operates in an unfair arena for weapons production in that European arms manufacturers are subsidised. US explosive production is run on a Government Owned Contractor Operated systems. UK production operates at a high level of safety and environmental issues.

    (i)  Bridgewater is the only UK producer of the explosive TATB use in the initiator for the warheads of Britain's nuclear deterrent. Bridgewater supplies all the MoD's requirements for TATB and also the US Department of Defence. There is only one other factory capable of producing TATB to the level required by then MoD, this factory is located in France. Two other facilities, located in the US exist, they are capable of laboratory levels of production only. One of these facilities is currently closed following a fatal accident. We do not believe it is possible for Bae Systems to guarantee two sources of supply for TATB effectively placing the ongoing operation of the UK's strategic and tactical nuclear weapons in the hands of France.

    (j)  Bridgewater has one of the highest levels of unemployment in Somerset. Closure of the plant will lead to a further loss of skilled jobs and training opportunities for young people in the form of graduate and craft apprenticeships. We believe that the site closure will lead to the loss of £5.6 million with the consequential impact on local employers and the social services.


    (a)  Bae Systems claim that Chorley site is a loss making operation. However, it is unclear why production at Chorley remains stopped following the fatal accident there last year. The HSE have given the site a clean bill of health and failure to restart production and tap into a large internal and export market makes the financial situation intentionally self fulfilling. It is unclear how this fits with a desire to retain strategic production capability.

    (b)  The proofing ground facility at Chorley which is used for the testing and certification of a wide range of Bae Systems products will close. The facility has a long history of safe and environmentally friendly operation and transport operations. It is not clear where this activity will be undertaken on the closure of the site. Any change will carry considerably risk in terms of establishing equally sale processes and transport operations. Again off shoring at this facility would not seen to be in the strategic interests.

    (c)  Closure of production will place production of MoD's small arms requirement in a dependent position on foreign owned companies. Recent attempts to source small arms ammunition from a non UK arms manufacturer resulted in the dumping of 21 million unusable rounds of 9mm ammunition.

  In conclusion Bae Systems have already indicated that 20% of the companies they have approached to establish contractual relationship for the supply of products currently sourced from Bridgwater and Chorley were foreign owned or located. All of the countries in which these companies are based have had recently difficulties with UK foreign policy. The breakdown is one out of three businesses for Bridgwater Product UK based and one out of six businesses UK for Chorley product.

23 January 2006

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