13 October 2014

No gain for the needy South West

A post earlier this month about the Scottish independence referendum said that the possible relocation of the Royal Navy’s nuclear submarines to SW England would be revisited. 

Back in 2012 a post appeared here called Would Scotland’s loss be the South West’s gain? At the time there was a prospect of an independent Scotland no longer providing a base for the UK’s nuclear submarines and the Trident nuclear deterrent. The post explored the possibility of relocation of the deterrent and thousands of associated jobs to SW England and concluded:
Recent polling suggests that a majority of voters in Scotland do not want independence and if this continues until the referendum, the possibility of any gain does not arise. Otherwise, if the UK sans Scotland is to continue to be a nuclear weapon state, there doesn’t seem to be an alternative to Trident operating from HMNB* Devonport. A suitable armaments depot would have to be constructed there, or possibly in Cornwall, say by 2025. If this turns out to be not so much ‘implausible’ as impossible, something more radical might adopted, but probably would not be revealed until after the 2015 election. Otherwise Trident’s removal from the Clyde ought to be of considerable long-term net benefit to the economy of SW England in the form of jobs, and expenditure by households and on base support.
A key source for this post was Malcolm Chalmers’ and William Walker’s 2001 book, Uncharted Waters - The UK, Nuclear Weapons and The Scottish Question, although they had come to the conclusion that relocation to Devonport was implausible (page 120). A month later a follow-up post, What would be the cost of the South West’s gain?, appeared here. A cost figure which seemed to have some authority had appeared in The Times:
The cost of moving Britain’s four nuclear submarines from the Faslane base on the Clyde, along with stockpiles of warheads and missiles, could be £2.5 billion, according to former senior military commanders.
This figure’s possible provenance was explored and it was compared with the outturn of a couple of recent major projects audited by the NAO, the post's conclusion being:
Neither of these examples would suggest that £2.5 billion is a wild over- or underestimate.
In August 2014, a month before the referendum, Chalmers, who is now Research Director and Director, UK Defence Policy Studies at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI), published (with Hugh Chalmers) a detailed analysis, Relocation, Relocation, Relocation Could the UK’s Nuclear Force be Moved after Scottish Independence? To which their answer was Yes - to Devonport and Falmouth:

with the conclusion:
A potential alternative to HMNB Clyde would involve relocating the submarine support functions of Faslane to HMNB Devonport and replicating the munitions-support functions of Coulport from scratch on a greenfield site north of Falmouth. Previous work undertaken at HMNB Clyde in preparation for the current Vanguard-class submarine suggests that this relocation plan could cost between £3 billion and £4 billion (gross, at 2012/13 prices), not including any costs associated with land purchase and clearance of existing buildings at the new munitions-support facility. 
Some of these relocation costs could be funded by the cancellation of planned upgrades to HMNB Clyde to prepare it for a successor to Vanguard. The UK currently anticipates investing £2.3–3.4 billion (at 2012/13 prices) in new infrastructure for a successor submarine. Even if only £500 million of this were dedicated to HMNB Clyde, the net costs of relocating HMNB Clyde may therefore amount to between £2.5 billion and £3.5 billion (at 2012/13 prices), together with any costs associated with land purchase and clearance.
Following the referendum result, the problems that might have arisen after independence, of which Trident’s future was just one, have moved off the political agenda. Although the possibility of Scottish independence cannot be ruled out for all time, it seems most unlikely that resourcing submarine relocation would be recommended in the UK’s Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) due in 2015. That this potential gain is now not forthcoming is regrettable, if only because Devon and Cornwall are in a poor way, as the Western Morning News recently demonstrated drawing on the ManpowerGroup Pay League. Apparently in terms of averages, workers in the Home Counties and London earn up to £17,000 more than in the South West where, at £24,400, annual pay is almost £3,000 lower than in the the UK as a whole at £27,200. A table gave details at local authority level within the SW Region:

The relocation of work from HMNB Clyde would have had greatest impact towards the end of the list (22, 25, 26, 30, 32 and 35).

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