Assurances sought over Annan defence jobs

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By a Newsnet reporter

Scottish politicians have united in an attempt at preventing two MoD storage depots from closing with the loss of hundreds of local jobs.

The SNP’s Joan McAlpine and Tory David Mundell have both urged the MoD to reconsider their plan to close down a storage depot at Eastriggs in Annan, close to the border at Gretna.

 

By a Newsnet reporter

Scottish politicians have united in an attempt at preventing two MoD storage depots from closing with the loss of hundreds of local jobs.

The SNP’s Joan McAlpine and Tory David Mundell have both urged the MoD to reconsider their plan to close down a storage depot at Eastriggs in Annan, close to the border at Gretna.

The site’s sister depot at nearby Longtown in Cumbria is also expected to close.  Over 300 jobs will be lost locally as a result.  The MoD stressed that no final decision had yet been taken, but staff at the depots are said to be resigning themselves to the loss of their jobs.

Joan McAlpine, SNP MSP for South of Scotland, expressed concern over the possible loss of jobs at the sites.  Ms McAlpine said:

“The loss of these defence facilities would be a major blow for the local community and the UK Government must step back from further cuts to Scotland’s defence footprint.

“The depot at Eastriggs appears to have been run-down by the MoD over many years, but it remains a significant local employer and is vital to the economy and social fabric of the community.  We urgently need answers and assurances from the Ministry of Defence and an end to this uncertainty.

“Even before the recent basing review, Scotland had already suffered mammoth defence cuts in recent years and the threat of this local closure must be reversed.  Any further cuts will compound the 10,500 defence job losses and £5.6 billion underspend Scotland has endured over the last decade from Westminster.

“The threat to these jobs underlines the irony of scaremongering by Labour and the Tories about defence in an independent Scotland.  It is clear that far from Scotland benefiting from a defence dividend with the Union, we have in fact been victim of a defence downturn.

“With independence, Scotland will dump the expensive and obscene Trident nuclear weapons, and invest in professional, conventional forces.  The disastrous decisions made for Scotland by Westminster demonstrate the modern benefits and opportunities offered by independence.”

The site originally came into operation as a defence facility during the First World War when the War Department (the predecessor to the MoD) opened a munitions factory.  Known as His Majesty’s Factory Gretna, the site was for a while the largest factory in the world, with dispersed buildings stretching over nine miles of countryside from Eastriggs in Dumfriesshire across the border to the Cumbrian village of Longtown.  The factory was built to produce cordite for the British Army in response to a shortage of shells on the Western Front.

At its peak during WW1, the factory produced over 800 tons of explosives a week and employed 30,000 workers.  The site was so large it had its own railway line with over 125 miles of track and 34 steam locomotives.  The modern villages of Gretna and Eastriggs owe their origin to the factory, being built as planned settlements to house the large numbers of workers who moved into the area.

With the end of the war the factory was closed down and dismantled, but operations remained on a smaller scale at Eastriggs and Longtown where the MoD maintained storage facilities.  However over the past few years the sites have gradually been run down, and rumours of their closure have long circulated.  This week’s announcement by the MoD confirms local fears.

The depots are under threat because their licence to store explosives will expire in 2014.  The licence could only be renewed if major investment is made to bring the depots at Eastriggs and Longtown up to modern standards.  However it now seems clear that this investment will not be forthcoming, and the sites must be cleared by 2015.  

Local Conservative MP David Mundell said:  “I still hope that the decision can be changed and we can keep a significant base at Longtown with significant employment because I think there is a strong case for it both in terms of the suitability of the workforce and the geographical location.

“There is a very strong case for it but the difficulty is that over a long period of time it has been starved of investment and it cannot continue this way.”