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That sinking feeling again

the absence of an industrial policy in Britain

The loss of nearly 2,000 jobs at BAE Systems shipyards in England and Scotland once again exposes the absence of an industrial policy in Britain.

It also highlights the folly of the public-spending priorities of successive British governments, whether Tory or Labour.

For decades, in place of a planned approach to investment in the most dynamic and technologically advanced sectors of manufacturing industry, governments have simply allowed a "free for all" of takeovers and closures.

Overseas multinational corporations have been bribed with public money to set up any old shop here, regardless of the quality or durability of the new jobs being promised - often with excessive optimism - in return.

Meanwhile the demands of the City of London's financial markets and institutions have been given first call on government resources, culminating in the £1.35 trillion bailout undertaken since the 2008 financial crash.

The latest casualties of this wrong-headed, anarchic and short-term approach are the workers of Portsmouth, Clydeside, Fife and Bristol who will lose their jobs on the eve of Christmas festivities.

Rightly, they will not feel too much seasonal goodwill towards either BAE or the Con-Dem government.

The decline in demand for aircraft carriers and the other heavy end products of the armaments industry should have come as no surprise, especially with the shift of war-fighting scenarios away from the set-piece confrontation envisaged in the days of the cold war against the Soviet Union.

Countries now acquiring aircraft carriers for the first time such as India, China and Turkey have developed the capacity to make their own.

The decline of comparable facilities in Britain could easily have been foreseen and alternative arrangements made to utilise the skills and technology of workforces in Portsmouth, Clydeside and elsewhere.

Back in 1987 the Barrow Alternative Employment Committee produced a plan for that town's shipyard workers, showing how their shipbuilding and engineering skills and technology could be converted to civilian use. Rather than construct Trident nuclear submarines, they could produce offshore wave and wind power energy systems.

There can be no doubt which use would have better served the increasingly urgent needs of humanity and our planet.

But in Britain our governments and the big business interests they serve prefer to develop the means of mass destruction rather than those of mass survival. The Barrow plan was duly dismissed.

British governments still spend £14 on military equipment from our feather-bedded armaments industry for every £1 spent subsidising renewable energy. And when it comes to public finding for research and development, for every £1 spent on renewables £34 is ploughed into military work.

Yet, as Dr Steven Schofield demonstrated in his report Oceans of Work: Arms Conversion Revisited, the main proposals of the Barrow study remain valid, albeit in need of updating. He shows how existing armaments workforce skills can be used to produce, transport and store renewable energy and to reduce carbon emissions.

In particular, Dr Schofield contrasts government policy in Denmark to develop and manufacture wind turbines with Britain's "industrial cul-de-sac of nuclear reprocessing."

Despite perpetual public subsidies, our privatised aircraft and shipbuilding industry has been in a continuous state of crisis. This latest blow from BAE Systems underlines the case for renationalisation, combined with an integrated approach to public investment in Britain's future defence and energy requirements.


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