Playing fast and loose with the defence of the realm

In one of his last acts that went barely noticed a few days ago, the then prime minister David Cameron promised an early resolution to the question of a successor programme to Trident. You might find this odd, but I was very grateful to him for that. Here in Plymouth, and I dare say other defence communities across Britain, we are in the safety, security and certainty business.

I have been urging our local members of parliament (all Tories) to press the prime minister to finally take the decision to commission a successor programme. After all, this government has been spending money using an authorisation called Gateway 1, and in order to press ahead with the bulk of the expenditure a second gateway decision was required.

Irrespective of the defence needs of the country, there is also an industrial and local economic dimension to this, because of the jobs the defence programme brings to cities like Plymouth.

Around 1,000 jobs in Plymouth are directly involved with maintaining the nuclear programme. Babcock International (the company that manages that programme) estimates that for every job in our dockyard, there are four jobs outside of the dockyard dependent on it. There are also over 400 firms or companies which are in the supply chain. It is a fundamental part of our economy, so I welcome the opportunity from the outgoing prime minister and I urge the new prime minister to stick to his pledge.

The Conservatives have been using Trident; not as a deterrent against our enemies but to try and deter people from voting Labour. I think it is grossly offensive not just to our party but to the whole country that they would do this. I have spoken to the general secretaries of both Unite and GMB who have the majority of members in the nuclear workforce in my neck of the woods, and dockyard trade unionists themselves. All have agreed that defence of the realm and defence of these jobs is important and the final decision needs to be made without delay.

The industry needs to know where it stands, because many, many of the workers are incredibly skilled people who may be lost to the industry if this decision is not made in a timely manner. Nuclear engineers, for example, are in-demand people in our economy. There have been proposals that suggest that if the nuclear programme were to disappear then the yard would be put to some other use and other jobs be attracted in their stead. As somebody from south Wales originally, having seen the decline of the coal industry and the steel industry and having seen the promise of good, new jobs evaporate, I take such promises with a giant dose of salt.

This whole issue has become far too much of a political football and I for one say that we cannot any longer have a government play fast and loose with the defence of the realm and the security of jobs in defence in Plymouth. It will also give Labour MPs the opportunity to vote for party policy which is quite clear and unequivocal on this matter.

Let’s get it done!

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Tudor Evans is former leader of Plymouth city council. He tweets @CouncillorTudor

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Photo: Defence Images

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