Accounting for Trident?

Numbers feature as an essential descriptor of Trident. From the ever-increasing costs (the latest projected estimate is £167bn) to the codes for the final countdown to oblivion, they figure strongly. All the more surprising then there are such variations in some of the basic statistics – for example, over the numbers employed and location of firms in the supply chains. These are important in the debate and as drivers for estimating the wider multiplier impacts.

Jackie Baillie argued in the debate in the Scottish Parliament on 3 November 2015 that c.13,000 jobs were under threat in west central Scotland, while GMB (letter to members, 26 October 2015) recorded a long list of companies involved in defence in Scotland which, by association, are dependent on Trident. Linking all these jobs and firms necessarily to the replacement of Trident, thus, becomes a critical and elemental factor in considering the implications of not investing in a new generation of submarines and weapons systems. Let’s look at their respective claims as they are the main and leading proponents of renewal, and so should be open to scrutiny as they stand against the accepted position of the majority of the population, the Scottish Government, Parliament and labour movement.

The joint Scottish CND and STUC study on Cancelling Trident: The economic and employment consequences for Scotland (2007) conducted forensic analysis and interrogation of the MoD responses to FOI and Parliamentary Questions in Westminster in 2012. These confirmed that only 520 civilians employed at HMNB Clyde were ‘directly reliant on Trident’. Of these, 254 were employed by Babcock Marine and 107 by Lockheed Martin; the remaining 159 were employed by the MoD and, in 2013, 149 of these were moved to ABL Alliance in the private sector.

The 60 engineering and science Lockheed staff are mostly dedicated to working on Trident but have transferable skills which could be redeployed in the labour market and economy fairly readily. The 191 Babcock engineering and science workers are less dependent on Trident and again could find comparable work in other naval and civilian facilities. Similarly, logistics staff could secure and do socially useful work elsewhere in the economy; their skills and attributes are in demand and essential in the Scottish economy’s future.

Analyses of their work (and others at the Clyde submarine bases) by the STUC and Scottish CND in 2015, calculated down to the hours expended on different tasks, shows the effort and skills required are very similar between Trident and other nuclear-powered (but not nuclear-armed) submarines and surface ships. Based on MoD and private sector companies’ own analyses, data from Babcock and others offer a much more honest appraisal of Trident dependency than the exaggerated and obfuscated suggestions that Bailey and the GMB propagate.

So, of those 520 Scottish workers directly dependent on Trident, almost all have skills in demand locally and elsewhere in defence and the wider economy; with transferable attributes and experiences, they are not dependent on this unique weapons system and the 13,000 figure is exposed as without foundation. But what of the future, with a potential build-up of new employment opportunities as Trident is replaced?

Well, there is no proposal the replacement will be a generator of new jobs. Instead, perhaps, standstill in the total private sector employment might be anticipated. The question then becomes what happens to those currently employed in the Clyde bases on maintaining submarines with armed nuclear weapons if plans for replacement are not pursued. As the current Trident submarines require servicing and decommissioning over the next few years, there will be a need to continue to employ most of the existing staff anyway. The average age is currently about 50 and rising, with increasing proportions reaching 64 over the next decade. By 2028 half of existing workers will have reached retirement age so, with redeployment and voluntary exit from the sector, the problem of redundancy will have become largely ‘redundant’.

This review of the actual dependency on Trident and its replacement reveals numbers of civilians directly employed is small, and there will be work for the next 12-15 years for those still at the bases if there was no investment. There appear to be no grounds for concern, therefore, for the existing workforce either on the Clyde Submarine bases or in the wider labour market. In fact, the wider defence sector in Scotland is poorly served and supplied by Trident. Rather than this being its anchor, it is a drain on the defence and public sector budgets.

The accelerating dominance of maintaining an independent deterrent with a replacement Trident inevitably means that other areas of the defence sector are threatened with cuts in jobs and orders. The Financial Times and others have noted the consequences for Clyde shipbuilding of privileging of Trident in a decreasing defence budget and ‘it is clear that there will be major employment consequences for Scotland if Trident is not cancelled’ with fewer orders of new Type-26 frigates. Failure to appreciate this by Trident promoters is exacerbated by their lack of understanding of the implications of importing technologies and weapons compared with producing and servicing them domestically. Buying from abroad necessarily means potential multiplier effects are reduced and so fewer jobs, supplies and incomes are retained within Scotland and the UK – reliance on US suppliers destroys employment, innovation and enterprise here.

For west central Scotland, there is a question regarding the number of jobs locally and the ongoing need to address where new posts can be created for those entering the labour market. During the debates over the replacement of Poseidon with Trident in the 1980s, the Alternative Employment Study Group (AESG) in 1985 undertook detailed work on the supply chains for the bases, on the comparable position of such military complexes in the US, and on possible diversification strategies locally. When diversification of defence and of public expenditure generally was explored in the 2007 SCND/STUC and 2015 STUC/SCND reports, supported by many other studies and reports, similar arguments and conclusions were drawn.

Crucially, before any development could be started then in the US, its Department of Defense had to construct credible regeneration plans for any community where a military installation was being proposed – even if its working life was to be half a century or more. Since 1988, the Base Realignment and Closure Act has applied and this requires five years advance warning of any closure and the ‘Defense Industry Adjustment’ is tasked to redress the impact of reduced defence orders on manufacturing communities and creating alternative employment locally.

These efforts at regeneration have been successful as the case studies in ‘Trident and Jobs’ (STUC/ SCND 2015) have shown. Successive UK governments eschewed such socially responsible planning requirements. Nevertheless, the studies by AESG and STUC/SCND have identified better applications for the skills, experiences and expertise of the civilian personnel employed at Faslane and Coulport. Significant levels of cynicism and wilful miscalculation are required to suggest that 250 new jobs cannot be created in science, engineering and technology over the next decade or so to replace any remaining Trident-based employment. Scotland has over 40 years of recognised experience of policies and strategies for economic regeneration, partnership working, development agencies, enterprise zones and enterprise areas.

The proposal for a Scottish Defence Diversification Agency was drawn on and informed by participation by the STUC, most unions and local authorities in such strategic economic interventions. The aims and objectives of such an agency are consistent with the economic development strategy for West Dunbartonshire, the wider labour market area and Scotland. Renewables and offshore engineering, logistics, creative industries, software and IT and sustainable tourism will all require skills offered by apprentices, graduates and residents of the region. A fraction of the recurring annual billions of annual expenditure on Trident will generate that employment.

Trident is a uniquely ineffective way to create work; it inevitably leaks very high proportions of expenditure out of the region, Scotland and the UK to multinational defence enterprises, exacerbating the negative effects on the economy and supply chain. Despite the negativity and criticisms offered by the supporters of replacing Trident, their arguments do not stand up to scrutiny and a disservice is being done to the workforce, those in manufacturing and bases across Scotland, and the new generations looking for meaningful work locally. The spurious figures on jobs and enterprises dependent upon Trident should be consigned to the dustbin of history along with these WMDs.

Mike Danson was involved in the AESG reports and ‘Cancelling Trident: The economic and employment consequences for Scotland’.