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Council adds plea for government subsidy for Lancs weapons manufacturer


BAE Eurofighter Typhoon of the Royal Saudi Air Force - image by Gordon Zammit
BAE Eurofighter Typhoon of the Royal Saudi Air Force - image by Gordon Zammit
Chris Satori

Lancashire County Council and the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership have written to the government to encourage further development of the aerospace and advanced manufacturing sector.

The approach follows the recent announcement by BAE Systems that it will reduce staff numbers at its Lancashire operations.

The recent letter to Prime Minister Theresa May MP from county council leader Geoff Driver CBE, who is currently on bail until 22 November pending investigations relating to the OneConnect scandal, and Lancashire Enterprise Partnership chairman Edwin Booth, has highlighted the strength of the advanced manufacturing sector in the county and asked for specific support to enable its continued development.

Meetings to progress Lancashire's key asks are being arranged with Government officials.

MPs across all parties across Lancashire have also called for action from the government to step in to secure jobs at the Lancashire BAE sites following BAE's October announcement of almost 2000 job losses, of which 750 were scheduled for Warton and Samlesbury. 

Joint Government-Industry Defence Growth Partnership

In a personal response, the Prime Minister, Theresa May MP, wrote that "the Defence Sector is working on a proposal, as part of the Joint Government-Industry Defence Growth Partnership. Given the importance of defence aerospace to Lancashire, I believe it would be worth exploring your ideas with the Defence Growth Partnership to strengthen the advance manufacturing hub in Lancashire as part of their proposal."

Commenting on the issue, County Councillor Geoff Driver CBE, said: "It's important that we make Lancashire's voice heard, and look at how we can continue to support, develop and encourage this important sector for the Lancashire economy.

"The expertise of the people in Lancashire who work in this sector is amongst the very best in the world, and we will do what we can to ensure it remains this way.

"It's vital that we continue to enable this dynamic sector to grow and take up new business opportunities, through investments in new innovation facilities and skills development.

"We're always talking to the government about key issues that affect the county, and how we can work together to benefit Lancashire. We will do what we can to ensure that the county remains at the forefront of the advanced manufacturing sector.

"We've already heard back from the Government. We're pleased that they've recognised and understood our position, and they are now considering the matters we've raised with them."

Advanced Manufacturing Activity

Edwin Booth, Chair of the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership, said: “BAE Systems is one of Lancashire’s biggest aerospace employers, and we work closely with them on many initiatives to help promote the county as dynamic hub of aerospace and advanced manufacturing activity.

"In the coming weeks, we will work with colleagues in BAE Systems and Government to respond to this specific challenge.

"The LEP continues to invest in and support Lancashire’s position as the UK’s leading region for aerospace innovation and production which ensures our aerospace offer remains highly attractive to employers and investors.

The BAE Enterprise Zones

"This includes creating a unique aerospace, advanced manufacturing and energy cluster across our four Enterprise Zone sites, investing millions in new manufacturing and innovation facilities alongside our colleges and universities, whilst developing a vocational skills strategy which is directly aligned to anticipated employer demand within high value sectors such aerospace.

"The LEP continues to support Lancashire’s aerospace sector, and the wider manufacturing supply chain, to ensure we meet the needs of aerospace customers both now and in the future."

Sustainable? Ask the Yemenis

BAE Systems has considerable political influence regionally and nationally, as the above exchange reflects. Its Lancashire sites have been designated Enterprise Zones in order to qualify for generous tax relief and development aid. But the company has a bleak and bloody record of selling weapons to foreign agencies for use on civilians, particularly to Saudi Arabia for its current involvement in the war in Yemen. 

British arms companies have earned more than £6bn from their trade with Saudi Arabia during the ongoing war in Yemen, new research has found.  A spokesperson from War Child said: “Weapons sales to Saudi Arabia generated just £13m in corporation tax in 2016, yet during 2017, the UK will spend £139m in humanitarian aid to Yemen.  This means the Treasury is spending over four times in aid what it is getting back in tax.”

These figures don't include the development aid that BAE receives. Nor, presumably, the bribes it has allegedly paid. But it's debatable whether private defence companies can ever offer Lancashire a stable economic future - and indeed whether that is where we should be focussing all our resources, despite their undoubted influence. It would make sense to diversify regional investment into more sustainable manufacturing and technologies. There's more to Lancashire than killing for cash.