What Does Trident Renewal Mean for Recruitment?
Morally questionable, yes, but almost certainly necessary in today’s dangerous and volatile world: like it or loathe it, it appears that nuclear weapons are here to stay in the UK.
On the 18th July, MPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of renewing the UK’s nuclear deterrent, Trident, with a majority of 355 (472 votes for, 117 against). Calling for the vote was one of the first acts of new Prime Minister, Theresa May, and caused more than a little friction. While detailing her case for renewal in the Commons prior to the vote, the PM was asked by SNP MP George Kerevan whether she was ‘personally prepared to authorise a nuclear strike that can kill a hundred thousand innocent men, women and children’, to which Mrs May replied, firmly and without hesitation, ‘yes’. In her first Commons speech since she claimed Number 10 as her own, Mrs May referenced the ‘very real’ threat posed by Russia and North Korea, claiming that the UK could not afford to ‘relax our guard’, and urged her fellow MPs to vote for renewal.
The result is a strong vote of confidence in the Trident weapons system, the renewal of which is predicted to cost roughly £31bn, plus a £10bn contingency fund, and evidences the government’s determination to remain a relevant and influential player on the world stage, particularly in the wake of the ‘Brexit’ vote.
What is Trident?
Operated by the British Royal Navy and based at the Clyde Naval Base on the west coast of Scotland, Trident acts as the UK’s ‘nuclear deterrent’. Since 1969, a British Vanguard-class submarine, one of four on rotation out of Clyde, (the four are named Vanguard, Victorious, Vigilant and Vengeance) has been somewhere in the world’s oceans, silently patrolling beneath the waves and armed with Trident nuclear weapons. The premise of Trident as a nuclear deterrent is that of mutually assured destruction: if you bomb us, we might be obliterated, but our last resort will retaliate and annihilate you too.
Each of the subs carries a sealed ‘letter of last resort’ in the Prime Minister’s hand, which contains instructions to follow if the UK has been devastated by a nuclear strike or other calamity and the government annihilated. It is one of the first, and possibly most sobering, tasks of any incoming UK Prime Minister to replace the letters of his predecessor: indeed, ___. Theresa May is said to have completed this sombre task as one of her very first upon taking command of 10 Downing Street.
Why does the program need to be renewed?;
While the existing submarines have years of service left, it could take up to 17 years to develop their replacements, and the current fleet are expected to reach the end of their lifespans in the late 2020s. This means that the decision on whether to renew needed to be taken immediately, otherwise the newest generation will not be ready in time to replace their older counterparts.
The vote last week represented the end of a process which was begun in December 2006, when Tony Blair’s cabinet agreed, without a single dissenter, to sustain the nuclear deterrent program over the period 2020 to 2050 and beyond.
What does this mean for recruitment and employment in the sector?
The text of the Trident motion itself, tabled in Theresa May’s name, refers to ‘the importance of this programme to the UK’s defence industrial base and in supporting thousands of highly skilled engineering jobs’, evidencing May’s recognition of the importance of supporting the UK’s engineering and defence industries.
Leaders of the GMB, a trade union representing Defence sector workers, sent a strong message of support
for renewing the Trident program back in February of this year, referencing fears of communities being “wiped out”, as had happened following the demise of other industries such as coal. Talk of scrapping Trident without addressing the possible implications for jobs and communities was deemed ‘irresponsible’, and the GMB estimated that some 50,000 jobs would be at risk if Trident were not renewed. The union are no doubt very pleased with the vote’s outcome.
The positive result of this vote is undoubtedly good news for the Defence sector, as some 30,000 jobs directly reliant on the programme have now been secured for the foreseeable future. This includes roughly 6,000 positions at the BAE Systems facility in Burrow-in-Furness.
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