Explosives plant threatened

Unions claim Royal Ordnance joint venture plan in France will close UK factory

By George Paloczi-Horvath

Workers at Britain’s last factory making high explosives claim that the owner, Royal Ordnance, plans to close the plant and dismantle machinery so it can be shipped to a joint venture partner in France.

The Government was accused of washing its hands over the matter. But the Labour party said it might stop the plan.

`Portillo [the defence secretary] talks tough on Tory platforms, but is selling Britain short,’ said Neil Driver, the AEEU union convener at Royal Ordnance’s explosives plant at Bridgewater in Somerset.

Royal Ordnance confirmed it had been negotiating a joint venture with France’s SNPE for the past two years, but said `no final decisions have been made’. The company refused to speculate on whether the plant might be shut or its plant moved. Talks are now in the due diligence stage.

The unions said the deal would involve shutting Bridgewater, leaving Royal Ordnance just the Bishopton propellant site as the UK side of the venture.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats have condemned Bridgewater’s possible closure. Shadow defence secretary David Clark said: `Labour will examine this proposal as a matter of urgency in government. We will take into account all the implications for Britain’s national defence that the loss of this capability will have’.

Labour and the unions have focused on the possibility of France halting supplies to Britain in an emergency. Bridgewater MP Tom King is also campaigning against the plan.