Devonport awarded pounds 5bn contract to refit Tridents: Scottish Tories add voices to widespread anger at 800 job losses. Patricia Wynn Davies and James Cusick report

Click to follow
The Independent Online
GOVERNMENT pledges that only 800 jobs will be lost by the award of the lucrative Trident nuclear refitting contract to Devonport dockyard were bitterly dismissed yesterday by Scottish MPs and disappointed workers at the Rosyth yard in Fife.

Malcolm Rifkind, Secretary of State for Defence, ended months of speculation and political lobbying with a Commons announcement that while Devonport had won the pounds 5bn nuclear deal causing 450 job losses in Rosyth, the Scottish yard would be guaranteed more than half of all surface ship refits for the next 12 years.

That equals work on about 50 ships, including 18 major warships. Rosyth will have to compete with Devonport for the rest. The level of guaranteed surface work for Rosyth will mean 350 redundancies at the West Country yard, Mr Rifkind said. The surface work commitment was largely due to the efforts of Ian Lang, Secretary of State for Scotland.

The two privatised yards emerged from successive competing bids level in terms of facilities, skills and experience. But taking account of capital and day-to-day costs, Devonport's final bid was pounds 64m cheaper, Mr Rifkind told MPs.

His figures - independently costed by the MoD - put Rosyth's proposal at pounds 248m and Devonport's at pounds 236m. These figures, for the capital cost of building the refit yards, were over pounds 100m more than the two companies had estimated. That, Mr Lang said afterwards, was 'emphatically not the end of the world for Rosyth'.

But the deal was attacked by the Rosyth workforce, Labour and some Scottish Tory backbenchers.

Calling for independent assessments by the Commons Defence Select Committee and the National Audit Office, Gordon Brown, the shadow Chancellor and Rosyth's constituency MP, put the job losses as more likely to be 1,000.

Brian Marr, vice-chairman of the staff association at Rosyth, described the mood of the workforce as 'shock, rapidly turning to anger'. Mr Rifkind's promises were 'not worth the paper they are written on'. Bill Walker, Conservative MP for Tayside North, wrote to his constituency association chairman saying he could not support the decision.

Allan Smith, managing director of Babcock Thorn, the operators of Rosyth, denounced the Trident decision as 'without logic' but welcomed the fact that the yard would gain 12 years of surface-ship contracts.

But Brian Negus, chairman of the yard's conveners, said yesterday would go down in the history books as the day the Government betrayed the workers of Rosyth, their local communities and Scotland. Rosyth was promised the Trident refit work in 1984. He added: 'If we go by past promises then we won't be here soon.' He questioned how 3,000 could be employed on roughly one- and-a-half navy refits per year.

Colm McConnel, secretary of the IPMS union at Rosyth, said: 'We are being offered a sop to get the Government off. We simply do not accept their guarantees.'

The decision is likely to cost jobs at companies holding contracts related to submarine work. An estimated 15,000 jobs in 1,000 companies throughout Scotland have contracts allied to Rosyth.

Even amid the celebrations at Devonport, job prospects were played down. Martin Giddy, a representative of white-collar workers, estimated there would still be 1,000 redundancies.