Faslane extravagance means net job losses and a threat to security

By Savi Hensman
August 31, 2015

George Osborne, the UK chancellor, announced that £500 million is to be spent on a nuclear submarine base in Scotland, securing or creating over 6,700 jobs and protecting the country. This may sound impressive. But, when examined, his claims ring hollow.

The money will go on contracts for the Royal Navy base at Faslane from 2017, over the course of a decade. This is where the fleet of Trident nuclear submarines is, which the government has also pledged to renew at great expense.

The Chancellor told BBC Radio Scotland, “This is a huge investment in jobs, it will secure the 6,500 jobs already here and actually increase the number of jobs to around 8,000 – a massive boost for Scotland and the UK's defence.”

He also wrote in the Sun newspaper, the political consensus that Britain needed a nuclear deterrent "risks being shattered again by an unholy alliance of Labour's left-wing insurgents and the Scottish nationalists".

He claimed that “the new unilateralists of British politics are a threat to our future national security. In a world that's getting more dangerous it would be disastrous for Britain to throw away the ultimate insurance policy that keeps us free and safe."

In reality, the plans are likely to result in an overall loss of jobs and put the UK and wider world at greater risk.

The announcement is set against a background of harsh cuts in public services and also social security. The benefits lost would mainly have been ploughed back into the local economy, for instance paying for childcare or personal assistants or spending in neighbourhood shops.

Earlier, in autumn 2014, the Ministry of Defence had awarded contracts worth £3.2 billion to support naval bases and ships. These were supposed to secure about 1,500 jobs at Faslane on the Clyde, up to 4,000 in Devonport and over 2,000 at Portsmouth.

The latest announcement is also being portrayed as benefiting ordinary workers, as no doubt will more such in years to come. But much of the money from these and similar contracts ends up in the pockets of company directors and major shareholders. Babcock, which covers Clyde and Devonport, was awarded £2.6 billion while BAE Systems got £600 million. In May 2015, Babcock reported that its pre-tax profits in the previous financial year had gone up by 43 per cent.

However, the £500 million could have been spent on protecting and creating jobs in environmentally-friendly industries, health and social care.

For instance, in the course of a year, it could have paid 12,500 apprentices in ‘green’ jobs at £16,000 each, 2,500 instructors and engineers at £40,000 each and 10,000 careworkers and healthcare assistants at £20,000 each.

As for the notion that investing in nuclear weapons secures the UK’s safety and freedom, this is absurd. For a start, these weapons are utterly useless against terrorist attacks.

In the highly unlikely event of an invasion by a nuclear power, there are better means of defence than threatening numerous civilians and, in turn, making Faslane and everyone nearby a prime target for annihilation. In addition, it undermines the UK’s credibility in pushing for nuclear disarmament and promoting peace internationally.

In the midst of harsh cuts which bring misery to hundreds of thousands of people, such expenditure also risks alienating many, including young people. This hardly increases the security of Scotland or anywhere else.

It is time to shift investment to creating jobs which safeguard, rather than threaten, life and secure a better UK for future generations. Spending huge sums on a nuclear submarine base and fleet is very poor value for money, if one believes that people’s wellbeing should take priority over profits for a few.

John Swinney, Scotland’s deputy first minister, accused George Osborne of making “the wrong moral choice”. Many would agree.

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© Savitri Hensman is a widely-published Christian commentator of politics, religion, welfare and allied topics. An Ekklesia associate, she works in the care and equalities sector.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.