Arms plant set for rescue

Royal Ordnance’s Bishopton munitions plant near Glasgow is to be saved from closure, according to a leaked rescue plan being drawn up by the Government, the MoD and the plant’s owners British Aerospace. Under the plan, 20% of a £130m artillery shell propellant deal, which originally went to South African rival Somchem, will be returned […]

Royal Ordnance’s Bishopton munitions plant near Glasgow is to be saved from closure, according to a leaked rescue plan being drawn up by the Government, the MoD and the plant’s owners British Aerospace.

Under the plan, 20% of a £130m artillery shell propellant deal, which originally went to South African rival Somchem, will be returned to the Renfrewshire plant. The rescue plan is intended to secure Bishopton’s future for the next 10 years and BAe will be asked to divert work there.

Loss of the artillery shell contract at the end of 1998 forced BAe to announce the closure of Bishopton with the loss of 500 jobs. BAe claims it can source cheaper munitions from abroad.

Official publication of the rescue package is expected to coincide with the release in about a week’s time of a damning report into the closure by the Defence Select Committee. This reveals that defence ministers ignored advice from their own expert advisers, the Defence Scientific Advisory Committee.

Defence Secretary George Robertson has been under fire from unions and politicians for not saving the plant. Bishopton is the UK’s sole supplier of propellant for The British Army’s tank and artillery ammunition, and naval shells and missiles.

The MoD and BAe have dismissed the report of a rescue package as ‘wide of the mark’ and ‘misleading’. However, the MoD has postponed signing the contract for propellant with Somchem until the inquiry into Bishopton is complete.

* Babcock Rosyth has won a £100m order to refit nuclear submarine HMS Spartacus. This will safeguard 600 jobs at the dockyard for the next two and a half years.