North Devon Journal article 25 October 2018
It's an extremely worrying time for the workforce at Appledore shipyard as questions continue over the future plans of the yard’s owners, Babcock International.
Appledore is in the constituency of my colleague Geoffrey Cox, but the employees and their families live right across North Devon and the yard is a major part of the regional economy. That's why Geoffrey and I are working closely together on this issue.
Last week we held a joint meeting with Babcock International Chief Executive, Archie Bethel, to seek assurances over their future plans for Appledore.
During the discussion we emphasised the importance of the yard, not only for its highly-skilled workforce, but also the wider community. The CEO gave us his welcome commitment that Babcock is doing all it can to ensure the workforce at Appledore remains engaged and employed.
We have also held regular meetings with the Ministry of Defence, and on Monday I raised the issue in parliament. This was followed by a further meeting with the Defence Secretary on Tuesday evening.
The fundamental challenge, however, is that the future of the yard does not rest in the hands of the MoD. Most of Appledore's work in recent years has come from foreign contracts, notably the Irish government.
So whilst the government is doing everything it can, and engaging actively with Babcock, frankly it is for the yard's owners to decide whether Appledore forms part of their future business plans. As they do so, we have urged them to keep the employees and their families uppermost in their minds, and we welcome their assurances in this regard.
Incidentally, it's unhelpful that some people are trying to bring party politics into this. For the record, the UK's defence spending is increasing – up from £45 billion six years ago to more than £48 billion today.
This is a complex and sensitive issue. Our focus at this worrying time must be on the Appledore workforce, and Geoffrey and I will continue to work hard on their behalf in pressing for a long-term commitment to their futures.