Posted on 5 Mar 2010 by The Manufacturer

Howard Wheeldon on reports that Britain may allow A400m work to go to Spain...

It seems that in his hatred of anything to do with defence spend our extraordinary Prime Minister is even now even prepared to risk UK based manufacturing jobs being given to Spain!

Last evening, by courtesy of Tim Hepher at Reuters, I learned what I had feared for several weeks – that by prevaricating on how it might fund a share of the package that would allow the A400M military heavylift to proceed, PM Brown is prepared to risk UK based jobs being stolen by another A400M partner – Spain. The bottom line of what Spain is saying is that if Britain is not prepared to join the other six partners on a similar basis of A400M refunding then it should not be allowed to retain the existing levels of work share on the actual program. No one is commenting of course – not EADS, not Spain and certainly not the UK government – but having been personally aware for some time that a problem existed on the A400M UK funding process I have absolutely no doubt that the Reuters account published last night is 100% correct.

Before providing a damming view of what such policy could mean – for British based manufacturing jobs plus for future defence partnerships between Britain and Europe – let me say here that for once there is absolutely no blame attached in my commentary to the Business Secretary, Lord Mandelson. Indeed, it is true to say that Lord Mandelson and Minister of State for Trade Promotion and Investment Lord Davies really have worked tirelessly to ensure that Britain plays a full part in the A400M manufacturing process. The problem it seems is fairly and squarely behind the doors of Numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street. Sadly it seems that the legacy of Baroness Shriti Vadera and the hatred by this government of anything to do with defence lives on!

Spain, in which nation the A400M will be finally assembled, is apparently demanding that Britain now shifts considerable composite related wings work, including jigs and cradles, from Filton near Bristol to Spain. It is of course a ridiculous notion and will not occur for the simple reason that just doing this would put the already three-year delayed A400M program back by at least another year. The method in Brown’s madness though is most probably in my view that he hopes that if Britain prevaricates on funding arrangements enough with a bit of luck the whole A400M program that the RAF (Britain is down to buy 25 A400M aircraft) plus the other six partner governments are now so desperate to see moving to full production will get killed off. With it of course would go about 8,500 directly employed jobs and thousands of other indirect jobs in the UK.

Even if there was now to be backtracking on the part of Britain and maybe even Spain the damage done by the UK government to this program and indeed the prospect of future industrial partnership between Britain and any of its European partners is enormous. It may well be that Mr. Brown and his cohorts have signed the partnership’s death knell. It begs the question on other partnership programs such as Eurofighter Typhoon and maybe even the UK government participation partnership with Lockheed Martin on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. After all, why should anyone ever trust Britain again if this is how it attempts to turn the screw on official manufacturing partnerships?

The damaging action of the British government that will in my humble view do such serious further damage to the future of the A400M program shows conclusively that while other nations – despite having similar economic problems to Britain – are prepared to treat their respective aerospace and defence manufacturing concerns as huge strategic assets to the economy, Britain couldn’t care less about the future of the remaining 140,000 jobs that remain in the UK defence industry as a whole let alone those employed right across the aerospace industry. (Worth noting here that in 1990 numbers of personnel employed in UK defence was around 555,000. By 2000 that number had essentially halved and today is has halved again. And yet in terms of actual UK export note that in 2007 Britain achieved a record £10bn of defence equipment exports that brought substantial benefit not only to the exchequer but also helping trade figures and employment.)

Back to the central issue though – could any of us imagine that Britain might one day attempt to stitch up Spain, France or Germany in the manner that Spain appears to be doing on the A400M manufacturing issue? No….we have not even got the guts let alone the inclination! Indeed, one might say that if allies such as Spain are attempting to do something like this what on earth would our enemies be doing if they are given the chance? And that thought makes what Spain is trying to do in stealing away UK technology, UK skills and jobs, UK research and development, UK based expertise, UK industrial advantage look the equivalent of a second armada sailing up the Bristol Channel! The trouble is that today we do not have a Francis Drake – we have a burnt out unelected Labour politician at the helm and one that is prepared to throw not only important manufacturing assets to our European competitors for nothing but also virtually all future decisions that effect the British economy as well.

I conclude by asking the following: When will the UK government finally wake up to the importance of its defence and aerospace manufacturing champions? When will Britain learn to treat our manufacturers in a similar manner to the way our competitors do in the US, France, Germany and Spain? When will our miserable government realise the importance of employment created and maintained by the defence manufacturing industry in Britain? When will it realise the export potential of what we do, the mass of research and development effort put in by the private sector and to an extent by the government as well that not only provides our troops with excellent equipment but also creates the potential for exports? When will they learn to support the defence industry, to support our troops by providing sufficient equipment, to provide our troops and their families with the huge support that they both need and deserve? When will they stop cutting corners attempting to do everything in defence of the realm on the cheap and risking the lives of our soldiers? When will they accept that as a proportion of GDP and despite self inflicted wounds of the economic crisis that we must still put defence of the realm at the top of the tree?