Barrow & Furness CLP Chair Chris Altree
Barrow & Furness CLP Chair Chris Altree

JOBS at Barrow shipyard could be chopped by the Conservative government, local Labour party figures have warned.

A radical review of Britain’s defence capabilities is currently being carried out by Boris Johnson’s maverick adviser Dominic Cummings and it is feared his cost-cutting axe might fall on BAE Systems’ overdue and over-budget submarine construction projects.

Now Barrow and Furness Labour Party chairman Chris Altree has challenged recently-elected Tory MP Simon Fell to come clean about the government’s intentions.

Technical problems within BAE Systems have resulted in delays to the Astute-class submarine programme. Last October it was revealed that the fourth boat – Audacious – was nearly 17 months behind schedule and its handover to the Royal Navy has been pushed back to at least January 2021.

The Ministry of Defence has admitted that the November 2026 deadline for the delivery of all seven vessels may have to be extended indefinitely. That situation is thought to have impacted on the construction of the £41bn Dreadnought-class Trident replacement boats in the yard and rumours are circulating that cost-cutter Cummings might be tempted to implement a cull.

Now Barrow and Furness Labour Party has invited Mr Fell to investigate the issue in order to calm jitters being experienced by local families and to restore confidence in the business community. In a letter to Mr Fell, party chairman Mr Altree wrote: “We hope you are settling into your new role as our MP and we wish you well.”

“You have declared your intention to fight hard for our people and central to that battle is making sure jobs are safe in our high-tech manufacturing sector. A defence review being undertaken by Downing Street adviser Dominic Cummings is sowing seeds of uncertainty about the future of submarine projects at the shipyard.”

“The economic buoyancy of Barrow and Furness is heavily linked to submarine building, which is something you emphasised in the weeks leading up to the December 12 general election. According to some reports Mr Cummings’ review of defence and foreign policy will be the most radical since 1945. The brief is to look at where Britain stands in a post-Brexit world, where the country will be in 2030, and what will be required to protect and promote its interests.

“There is a gaping hole the defence budget of some £7bn.”

“Mr Cummings and his fellow Downing Street adviser John Bew are shining a torchlight into the Astute programme – which is having its difficulties – not least because of the huge technological challenges that are regularly encountered in this kind of work.

“Like you, we champion the superb skills of our shipyard personnel and it is hard to overstate the importance of maintaining our nation’s defence capabilities in an increasingly unpredictable world.

“We are therefore asking you to speak directly to government ministers to obtain assurances that no shipyard jobs will be adversely affected by the review. I look forward to receiving your response.”

Former deputy leader of Barrow council Brendan Sweeney – who was agent for Labour candidate Mr Altree at the general election – said the irony would not be lost on people.

“One of the Tories’ main attack lines in this seat at the December election was to cast doubt in the minds of voters about Labour’s attitude towards defence. Simon Fell said a Labour Government in Downing Street would be a threat to thousands of shipyard jobs.

“It’s a scare tactic the Conservatives deploy every time and it came as no surprise to us that they were trundling it out again. The irony will not be lost on anyone – particularly those who work in the shipyard – that the reverse might now turn out to be true.”

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