Unions seek ammunition in battle to safeguard jobs at Britain’s privatised military supplies operation

Unions representing workers at Royal Ordnance are begging for a quick £300m ammunition order to help save jobs.

`Ministers in the old regime dithered and delayed over the order,’ said T&G national organiser Jack Dromey. `There should be no further delay, not least because the threat to jobs grows daily.’

The Ministry of Defence claims the purchase is `not due yet’, with an outstanding contract for large calibre artillery and tank ammunition – made at Bishopton, Strathclyde – only ending in 1998. Royal Ordnance `is trying to bring the order forward,’ the MoD said.

Royal Ordnance claims an internal paper on the need for ammunition is being assessed in the MoD. The arithmetic of the plan will be considered and an invitation to tender will then be issued.

The unions claim the tendering process should have begun before Christmas. The unions also want the MoD to stop Royal Ordnance closing Britain’s last high-explosives factory, at Bridgwater, Somerset, as part of a future joint venture with France’s SNPE.

Bridgwater’s fate depends on joint venture talks now at the due-diligence stage between Royal Ordnance and SNPE.

Dromey believes Labour defence ministers have recognised that Government cannot wash its hands over the decision on the future of Britain’s remaining high explosives factory. Royal Ordnance and SNPE are negotiating, but ministers will now keep a watching brief on developments, he said.

A spokesman at the MoD said this week that Bridgwater’s future was still being discussed and no conclusion has been reached. He admitted that there was a `need to make a decision fairly quickly for obvious reasons’.

The unions claim the joint venture might involve shutting Bridgwater, transferring explosives production to France, leaving just the Bishopton propellant site as the UK part of the venture.