A historic factory is being culled by government ministers as the destruction of British industry continues – ending manufacture at a site founded 160 years ago.
In 1847, William George Armstrong founded the Elswick works at Newcastle for the production of hydraulic machinery. Cranes and bridges followed and then artillery, notably the Armstrong breech loading gun, which re-equipped the British Army after the Crimean War. After merger with the shipbuilding firm Charles Mitchell in 1882, the works extended for over a mile along the banks of the Tyne. There followed a merger with the engineering firm of Joseph Whitworth and the company expanded into manufacture of cars, trucks, locomotives and subsequently aircraft when the subsidiary of Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft was created. The Elswick Ordnance Company, founded in 1859, was the armaments branch of Armstrong Whitworth and became part of Vickers-Armstrong in 1927 following another merger. It was one of the major British companies producing fighting vehicles and munitions during World War II.
|The entrance to Vickers, Newcastle: manufacturing there is set to end.|
Now, its new owner, BAE Systems Global Combat Systems, has announced 217 redundancies at the Tyneside Scotswood Road Heavy Armoured Fighting Vehicles site (the old Vickers Armstrong site). This will mean the end of manufacturing on the site with the remaining 413 jobs covering procurement, design, research etc in doubt.
The workforce and unions are campaigning against the redundancies, while lobbying ministers to award future MoD contracts for the Fress Scout and Warrior armoured fighting vehicles to secure the future of the site. These efforts have met with little success from ministers responsible for the MoD. Quentin Davies, the minister famous for claiming £20,000 from the taxpayer to have the bell tower at his mansion rebuilt, told the unions that he did not care where future armoured vehicles were built – anywhere, Sweden, Singapore, USA or Australia – as long they supported British troops. There are two bidders for the new contracts, BAE Systems and Lockheed. BAE Systems in this case is based in Sweden and reports to Global Combat Systems which is based in the US, but who finally report to the main company in Britain.
The loss of Vickers Scotswood Road manufacturing would mean that Britain has no manufacturing capacity of its own to produce heavy armoured fighting vehicles. Government ministers appear not to have any strategic interest to make these vehicles in Britain and so another British industry goes to the wall, making us dependent on foreign manufacturing. This follows another recent announcement by BAE Systems relating to fighter aircraft capacity cuts, which also means site closures and redundancies. This will result in there being no capacity to build a fighter aircraft from start to finish in Britain leading, again, to dependence on foreign manufacturing.
The government, while demanding loyalty to British troops in Afghanistan where these vehicles would be destined, shows no loyalty whatsoever to British workers.