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Can Britain afford to offshore ship building?

Cammell Laird, working to full capacity in 2012

Though Cammell Laird’s Birkenhead shipyard won two contracts this month, worth a total of £619 million, to provide spares, repairs and do maintenance work for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary over10 years, news of plans to axe about 40% of the workforce (290 jobs) by the end of March 2019, was given to union representatives and workers today (11th October).

The Unite union is demanding that Cammell Laird sets out the business case for cuts which will see the loss of vital skills and ‘backdoor casualisation’ of the workforce. It fears that the proposed job losses will undermine the shipyard’s ability to fulfil new contracts.

Unite’s assistant general secretary for shipbuilding, Steve Turner, said: “The loss of jobs at Cammell Laird would see skills gone for a generation and be a further blow to the UK’s shipbuilding industry . . . it is clear that the government must and can do more to support UK shipbuilding jobs. This must include the government stepping in and supporting the retention of skills and jobs while shipyards like Cammell Laird wait for new contracts to come on stream”.

Instead of ‘offshoring’, the government should be handing contracts to build the Royal Navy’s new fleet solid support vessels and a £1.25bn contract for Type 31e frigates (maritime security-focused platforms) to UK shipyards, using British made steel as part of an industrial strategy that supports jobs and communities across our four nations.

Yesterday it was reported that MPs had urged civil servants (defence officials) to pick a UK company for the £1billion contract for three Fleet Solid Support vessels for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. Commons Defence Committee chairman and senior Tory MP Julian Lewis feared that foreign firms subsidised by their governments could undercut British rivals.

Penny-wise, pound foolish?

The MoD’s director general for finance told MPs the department’s biggest concern was “what will deliver the greatest value for money”- meaning the lowest bid – a narrow perspective. But as Labour MP John Spellar pointed out, the Treasury would benefit from tax revenue ploughed into public coffers if the work was carried out in the UK  –  “a significant return” – which would be multiplied by work given to British steel and component manufacturers.

Steve Turner said that a failure to have these ships made in Britain would be ‘a gross betrayal of UK ship workers and regional economies, putting at risk manufacturing skills vital to our country’.





New Fleet Solid Support ships: cash-strapped MoD should look at the total cost-benefit of building in Britain


Jeremy Corbyn is in Glasgow today, where – reversing New Labour policy – he will call for Navy shipbuilding contracts to stay in the UK.

The contract could lead to over 6,500 jobs in the UK, 1,800 of those in shipyards: “Our proposal would both sustain existing shipbuilding and supply chain jobs and create new ones – right here in Scotland and also across the UK.”

The MOD, which is alleged to have ‘lost controls of costs’, hopes for a cheaper option. Its spokesman added: “We are launching a competition for three new Fleet Solid Support ships this year and strongly encourage British yards to take part”.

“Until the new Fleet Solid Support Ships (FSS) arrive, these hardy veterans must stagger on into the mid-2020s” 

STRN points out that the need for these important ships was first stated in 2015 – and it is feared that the first ship will probably not be ready for sea until around 2025.

The three currently supporting ships supply ammunition, food and spares are “antiques built in the late 1970s and saw action in the Falklands War”. Corbyn warns:

“By refusing to help our industry thrive, the Conservatives are continuing their historic trend of hollowing out and closing down British industry. Over the course of the 1980s under the Tories, 75,000 jobs were lost in UK shipyards, leaving just 32,000 remaining.

“Our shipyards used to produce half of all new ships worldwide. Our current market share is now less than half a per cent. The Tories seem hell-bent on accelerating and deepening this industrial decline.”

SNP MSP for Glasgow Anniesland, Bill Kidd, is sceptical, saying: “Workers on the Clyde and people across Scotland haven’t forgotten Labour’s betrayal of the industry in 2014.





Arms corporates, the MoD, procurement and privatisation

The MoD’s Defence Equipment and Support organisation (DE & S formerly DESO), employs 16,000 full-time staff and more than 3,400 contractors to handle the three armed services’ £14bn annual spending on new equipment and on maintenance. It oversees Britain’s £163bn 10-year defence budget and most of the government’s largest expenditure projects.

But today, the Times and the FT confidently predict that defence secretary Michael Fallon, speaking at an Institute of Directors dinner in Durham, will reveal many shortcomings, including fraudulent charges that arms companies have levied on the taxpayer for:

  • croquet lessons,
  • horseracing trips,
  • speeding tickets
  • and magicians.

And today, the National Audit Office has released a report saying that during attempts by the DE & S to privatise the running of procurement, which were abandoned in December 2013 after a collapse of the bidding process, MoD civil servants had ‘squandered’ £33m on consultancy fees and preparatory work.

Mr Fallon’s proposal:

A Whitehall defence watchdog will be set up, with the power to fine defence companies up to £1m if it discovers abuse of the contracting process. The defence secretary will tell the audience that the MoD will demand “100% transparency”.

FT: “Mr Fallon’s remarks are likely to be greeted coolly by a defence industry that has so far been broadly critical of government reform efforts”.

And sadly, the ‘fat cat’ mentality survives unscathed . . . The FT reported (14.4.14) that the MoD had asked the Treasury for permission to give top staff in the new watchdog inflation-busting pay rises or bonuses when they leave.

More information: 2015 2014

India stops one carriage on the Gravy Train in its tracks

When will senior politicians in the British government decide to have an arms length relationship with currently close defence, banking, construction, pharmaceutical and bioscience corporates, stop rewarding failure, close the revolving door and begin to believe that – long term – honesty is the best policy?

gravy train

For years the name of Agusta Westland has surfaced in our database files.

Reuters now report that India, after terminated the 2010 contract for twelve AW101 helicopters, partly produced in Britain, has recovered 228 million euro bank guarantees. Allegations of bribery (detailed here) had emerged in Italy against executives at Finmeccanica’s helicopter unit, leading to the arrest of former Finmeccanica and AgustaWestland senior executives.

The revolving door between government and multinationals

revolving_doorA 2009 investigation by the Mail found that one in three civil servants who took up lucrative private sector jobs was working in the Ministry of Defence: “Last year 394 civil servants applied to sell their skills to the highest bidder – and 130 were MoD personnel.

ACOBA, the committee which vets such appointments, approved all the applications, although some carried conditions”.

The MoD handed a £1.7billion contract for helicopters to Finmeccanica who then appointed as chairman the department’s top civil servant, Sir Kevin Tebbit, who ran the MoD in 2005. Finmeccanica, owns AgustaWestland.

  • Three years ago this site recorded the award of a £1.7billion contract to former Cabinet minister Geoff Hoon, Defence Secretary who became AgustaWestland’s executive senior vice-president of international business.

Another reward for failure?

The Financial Times and so many others – recalled that Hoon left his position with NATO in 2010 after being filmed by Channel 4 Dispatches telling undercover journalists posing as representatives of a lobbying/PR company, that his experience as a minister would help ‘open doors’ for firms wanting to lobby government.

A comment on the Movement for the Abolition of War newsletter: “Ex-defence secretary Hoon, having ensured AW earned millions, is now working for them.”

In March this year, another appointment was highlighted by Exaro News, an online service which investigates issues that are important to both the business world and the public in general, but which are being inadequately covered – or ignored – by the mainstream media.

jackie callcut

jackie callcut text

Yesterday, a blog by David Hencke, an investigative journalist, pointed to an article by Exaro colleague David Pallister which reveals that proceedings investigating alleged corruption involving a middleman and another British businessman and Indian officials are continuing in India and Italy.

Squeaky clean – only ’foreigners’ involved?

cameron singh indiaDavid Cameron in 2013 visited India with 100 business and, as you can read here, praised Westland, saying that any corruption problems about the order were a matter for the Indians and the Italians;

“Britain has … some of the toughest laws in the world, so people know if they do business with British companies, they have protections.”

How odd that must have seemed to Indian listeners – as one of the people under investigation in the corruption scandal was British.

The Indian Parliament has recorded a request for more information and a written answer to MPs says: “MEA (ministry of external affairs) has also been requested to take up the matter with the government of the UK, as well as requesting its co-operation in verifying the allegations, and helping us by providing relevant information relating to the alleged involvement of a middleman and/or of any Indian individual/entity.”

Philip Hammond, the defence secretary, was asked what was happening by David Hencke at a press gallery lunch in Parliament. His reply was that he was “unaware of any request” and repeated the Cameron line (above).

British workers in Yeovil will suffer from various forms of corruption in the higher echelons

Hencke ends by adding the latest news reported by the Times of India, that India has been considering whether to blacklist the company – a decision currently ‘put on hold’. He points out that this arrogant attitude towards corruption – “only a problem for others” – might well have serious repercussions for British workers who assemble the helicopters in Yeovil.


Radical change? Long overdue

Anglo-Saxon aid – a poisoned chalice?

david cameronTheresa sent news reported by Francis Elliott, Political Editor of the Times. A template for reform of aid spending has been drawn up by Tobias Ellwood, Mr Cameron’s envoy to Nato, who points out:

“Considering the financial pressure the MoD is under it makes sense to utilise funds earmarked for ODA spend, where of course it is permitted, which are currently sitting in the DfID”.

This news paled into insignificance when Mark sent news of the Obama government’s attempted subversion of Cuban society – no doubt hoping for a ‘Cuban spring’.

The Obama government’s USAID attempted subversion of Cuban society

It was first reported by Associated Press, ‘the world’s oldest and largest newsgathering organization’: “The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) masterminded the creation of a “Cuban Twitter,” a communications network designed to undermine the communist government in Cuba, built with secret shell companies and financed through foreign banks . . .

USAID graphicWorld News Network graphic

“The project, which lasted more than two years and drew tens of thousands of subscribers, sought to evade Cuba’s stranglehold on the Internet with a primitive social media platform. Its users were neither aware it was created by a U.S. agency with ties to the State Department, nor that American contractors were gathering personal data about them. In 2012, the text messaging service vanished as mysteriously as it appeared”.

According to documents obtained by the Associated Press and multiple interviews with people involved in the project:

“When the network reached a critical mass of subscribers, perhaps hundreds of thousands, operators would introduce political content aimed at inspiring Cubans to organize “smart mobs” — mass gatherings called at a moment’s notice that might trigger a Cuban Spring, or, as one USAID document put it, renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society”.

joe mcspedonIt was reported that this project was carried out by a high-tech team, directed by Joe McSpedon who worked for USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI). OTI was created after the fall of the Soviet Union to promote U.S. interests in quickly changing political environments — without the usual red tape. The team of contractors set up servers in Spain and Ireland to process texts, contracting an independent Spanish company called to send the text messages back to Cuba, while stripping off identifying data.

In 2011, the State Department’s Secretary Hillary Clinton thought social media was an important tool in diplomacy. At George Washington University, she said the U.S. helped people in “oppressive Internet environments get around filters.” In Tunisia, she said people used technology to “organize and share grievances, which, as we know, helped fuel a movement that led to revolutionary change.”

Josefina Vidal, director of U.S. affairs at Cuba’s Foreign Ministry, commented that the ZunZuneo program “shows once again that the United States government has not renounced its plans of subversion against Cuba, which have as their aim the creation of situations of destabilization in our country to create changes in the public order and toward which it continues to devote multimillion-dollar budgets each year.” Many will heartily agree with her restrained conclusion:

“The government of the United States must respect international law and the goals and principles of the United Nations charter and, therefore, cease its illegal and clandestine actions against Cuba, which are rejected by the Cuban people and international public opinion”.

Guardian: Revealed: revolving door from MoD to arms industry

Senior military officers and Ministry of Defence officials have taken up more than 3,500 jobs in arms companies over the past 16 years, according to figures that reveal the extent of the “revolving door” between the public and private sector.

The data, compiled by the Guardian from freedom of information requests -read on:


Is the Ministry of Defence responsible for radioactive pollution in Dalgety Bay?

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has found more than 200 radioactive particles on the shore at Dalgety Bay, a pretty town on the Fife coast. 

Dalgety Bay hosted a wartime airfield, where many aircraft were dismantled. They were used as landfill after the Second World War and it is thought erosion has led to radioactive radium from the aircraft dials leaking on to the foreshore. 

Why the delay? 

The Ministry of Defence is investigating the scale of the problem and ways it might be put right, but has not promised a full and final clean-up of the bay, despite calls for it to do so from the local MP and former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, and a recent discovery of particles far more radioactive than those previously found. 

After a meeting between Sepa, the MoD and members of the local community in November, Sepa said it wanted a draft of the MoD’s plan to tackle the problem of cleaning up the site by the end of January 2012, with a final set of plans by the end of February. Neither have been done. 

On 2nd May, BBC’s Face the Facts programme revealed: 
  • how the MOD has cleaned up other sites deemed far less radioactive;
  • how it sold off contaminated land for development with radium undetected;
  • how a lack of records means it does not know where similar sites might be and
  • how a leaked  government report from the 1950s warned of the danger of radium dumps being forgotten or, in the case of privately-owned land, deliberately concealed.
Passing the buck?

A declassified report, now in the National Archives, which was obtained by Radio 4’s investigative programme Face the Facts shows that the MoD has long accepted its past activities are the most likely cause of the problem. However, it argues that radium particles may have escaped from where they were buried due to the actions of developers. 

BBC Scotland reports that UK defence minister Andrew Robathan said the MoD did not at present accept full liability for the problem: 

“For instance, there has been industrial sites. I understand there has been a ship-breaking yard just down the way. There’s been earth movement which of course has disturbed a great deal of stuff. There’s been housing estates built.” 

“Radioactive Contaminated Land

 A SEPA spokesman said that if the MoD did not offer a satisfactory solution, Sepa will continue with its progress to designate the land as contaminated by the end of March.

Will Self’s broadcast: sanitising evisceration

Arms exporters and their political sales force (should) admit freely that weaponry is nothing more or less than the extension of diplomacy by potentially violent means . . .

Let’s call a spade a spade, a gun a gun, missile a missile, a cluster bomb a child-killer and a Tactica armoured car a means of brutal civilian repression when it’s deployed by the Saudis to support the undemocratic government in Bahrain. 


Euphemism – along with its kissing cousin, jargon – is integral to modern warfare – indeed, it’s difficult to imagine a conflict in recent years that hasn’t spawned its own little lexicon of obfuscation designed to sanitise the miserable and sickening business of uniformed young men eviscerating one another with high explosive, while drawing a veil over the so-called “collateral damage” wreaked upon civilians. 

Recent wars have been prosecuted by means of “surges”, “operations”, and “tactical strikes” – terms that imply the life-saving activities of doctors rather than the life-discarding ones of warriors.


It’s probably no coincidence that our own War Office was renamed the Ministry of Defence in 1964, the year when the Tonkin “incident” led to the “escalation” of the “conflict” in Vietnam. True, the British government took no direct part in the “winning of hearts and minds” or the “deployment of Agent Orange”, but we did our bit by carpet-bombing our own sensibilities with such highly-toxic euphemisms. 

Almost a half-century later we’re still at it, and while the vanguard is formed by that bewildering phenomenon, “humanitarian intervention”, it is in the vital area of “logistical support” that we Britons have proved ourselves most linguistically adept. 

Consider this, a few weeks ago DSEi was held at the ExCel Exhibition Centre in London’s Docklands . . . this enormous bazaar of bombs, guns and assorted other lethality is organised in association with your own government, a government that, the preceding week, sent speakers to an event entitled – with commendable directness – “The Middle East: a vast market for UK Defence and Security Companies.” 

(As a Pluto Press blogger puts it:

“Throughout the week, some of the world’s most corrupt, repressive and human rights-abusing regimes will be invited at the behest of either Clarion or the British government, to peruse the wares of BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Heckler & Koch and other weapons manufacturers of dubious repute.”)

Gaddafi’s forces were being destroyed in bizarre battles that pitted British weapons against other British weapons 

(At the same time) plans were afoot to sell still more of the same to authoritarian regimes in the Middle East – such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain – with documented histories of human rights abuses. Throughout the first two quarters of this year, even as tensions in the region reached boiling point, arms sales were approved by the British government to Algeria, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen . . . 

(T)he reported remark by Gerald Howarth, the junior defence minister, on the “debt” that Iraq and Libya owe to Britain comes into the tight focus of literalism: “We liberated the Iraqis from a tyrant, we liberated Libya from a tyrant, frankly I want to see UK business benefit from the liberation we’ve given to their people.” In other words, having sold plenty of knives to this bloodthirsty family, we expect gratitude to take the form of the Libyans buying more. The elision of business-speak with the foggy verbiage of warfare is perhaps the most deranging aspect of the contemporary arms trade. 

(T)he government’s own statistics suggest that arms in fact only comprise 1%-to-2% of our total exports. 

The existence of a government unit devoted to promoting arms exports is not that surprising given successive prime ministers have also acted as de facto salesmen for British weapons manufacturers . . . Time and again we are told that the arms industry – and by extension, arms exports – is an essential component of our economy and vital for that most vital of things – jobs. 

(E)ven if large numbers of British jobs were utterly dependent on selling arms to the Sri Lankans so they could pulverise Tamils, or to that delightful euphemism the Israeli Defence Force, so that they could – employing an apt Biblical figure of speech – smite the Gaza Strip, can that really dignify such labour? 

Will ends: “Personally, I’d rather flip burgers or sign on for Jobseeker’s allowance than forge death-metal in Vulcan’s furnace”. 

Read the whole article here. 

Lead given by CAAT news: Jan-March 2012

The revolving door: from the MoD to Serco’s defence, science and nuclear division

The Financial Times reports yet another example of the political-corporate nexus in this country:

Serco, the FTSE 100 company shortlisted for a £1bn contract to handle army hiring, has hired the Ministry of Defence’s head of recruitment.

“Brigadier Jolyon Jackson, currently director of training and operations at the MoD, will join Serco’s defence, science and nuclear division early next year with a brief to improve its operational efficiency”.