City leaders promise help for workers losing jobs at Sunderland munitions plant

The new Washington site for BAE Systems.

The new Washington site for BAE Systems.

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COUNCIL chiefs today pledged their support to workers after a defence giant announced plans to axe nearly 100 jobs at its Wearside factory.

BAE Systems’ munitions plant in Washington is set to see 97 redundancies.

Sharon Hodgson MP

Sharon Hodgson MP

Bosses said the move, now under consultation, follows major efficiency measures and reductions in orders required by the Ministry of Defence.

Washington and Sunderland West MP Sharon Hodgson said: “Clearly times are tough in the defence industry, with the winding down of ongoing conflicts and a shambolic Strategic Defence Review, but this is still very disappointing news for Washington.

“I have sought and been given assurances that BAE will make every effort to ensure those workers who may be affected will be redeployed where possible or receive the support they need to find other jobs, and I will follow up to ensure that this is the case.”

Paul Watson, leader of Sunderland City Council, said the authority had worked very closely with the company on its new premises in Washington.

He said: “This news is very disappointing for these employees and their families.

“I understand, however, the vast majority of the jobs at the site are secure.

“As in the past, the city council will continue to work closely with the company to see if there are any opportunities to assist and increase the workforce.”

Kevin Rowan, regional secretary of the Northern TUC described the move as a “hammer blow” to the local economy.

“The announcement from BAE Systems is a hammer blow to North East manufacturing,” he said. “Losing so many highly skilled and well paid jobs is devastating for all individuals concerned as well as to our local economy.

“We are now witnessing the Government’s savage cuts to defence taking its toll across our manufacturing and defence industries.

“This is further evidence that ministers must urgently review their counterproductive cuts and become much more active in safeguarding British industry and jobs.”

In total, the company proposes to shed more than 600 jobs in the UK – including plans to close its Newcastle factory, where tanks were made for World War I.

Durham MP and Shadow Armed Forces Minister Kevan Jones said: “It is yet another example of how the government cuts are impacting on this region.”

BAE chiefs said the improvements stemmed from a £200million five-year transformation programme, launched after a 15-year “partnering agreement” was signed with the Ministry of Defence in 2008.

Managing director Charlie Blakemore said: “We need to adapt to very challenging market conditions and further reduce our overheads to drive better value for our customers and increase our competitiveness in the export market.

“I know that this is difficult news for employees and we will do all we can to help them through this difficult period and mitigate the proposed job losses wherever possible.”

Coun Watson added that such announcements “only increase our resolve to build on the successes of recent months with more than 4,000 new jobs announced in the city and continue the steady progress we are making.

“I very much hope that these workers, many of whom may have very sought after skills in engineering and manufacturing, can find suitable new work as soon as possible.”

Twitter: @SunderlandEcho