Babcock International has announced Appledore Shipyard will close in March.

Representatives of GMB and UNITE handing their petition to Save Appledore Shipyard in to Parliament. Picture: Save Appledore ShipyardRepresentatives of GMB and UNITE handing their petition to Save Appledore Shipyard in to Parliament. Picture: Save Appledore Shipyard

A statement from the company said it will offer relocation opportunities for all 199 shipyard employees.

The statement said: “Babcock International (Babcock), the highly-skilled engineering services company, has today announced it has taken the difficult decision to exit operations at its Appledore facility in Devon, ending its site lease in March 2019.

“Babcock’s focus is now firmly on its workforce and its determination to protect their employment within the business.

“To that end, the company will offer relocation opportunities for all 199 Appledore employees at other Babcock facilities, 140 of whom are already on short-term redeployment to its Devonport operations.

“Babcock very much regrets having to take this course of action and recognises the impact it will have on its dedicated and professional workforce.

“The company will now engage in a consultation period, working closely with its employees and their Trade Unions representatives during this difficult time.

“In 2017/18 Appledore generated around £24 million of the Group’s total underlying revenue of £5.4 billion.”

‘Sick to the back teeth’

GMB representative Jake McLean said a mass meeting was called by Babcock at the shipyard this morning.

He said workers had been told to go home at 11.30am.

“There are a lot of angry people,” he told the Gazette.

“It’s a massive shock. The formal consultation starts tomorrow and we’ve been told we have to work until March.

“They’ve said they will offer us redeployment but for those who don’t take it, it’s redundancy.

“I don’t think a lot of people will take it. We’re sick to the back teeth.”

UNITE member and fellow shipyard worker Heathcliffe Pettifer said on Twitter: “I condemn the decision by Babcock this morning not to renew the lease on the yard, resulting in closure of the 160 year old shipbuilding facilities.

“This ends a key capability to build ships in the UK and takes with it skills, tradition & history!”

‘We want answers’

The news comes just days after a meeting in Parliament, which Mr McLean said had been ‘positive’.

The rally to save Appledore Shipyard. Picture: Graham HobbsThe rally to save Appledore Shipyard. Picture: Graham Hobbs

Union members had also handed in a 10,000-strong petition in support of saving the yard from closure.

GMB Union has demanded answers from the Government and Babcock about the package that was offered to save the yard.

GMB has reacted with anger to the ‘devastating’ decision to close Appeldore Shipyard.

A total of 200 people are set to lose their jobs when the yard closes in March 2019.

Overnight the Government offered a £60million deal to keep Appledore open.

But despite this, Babcock announced their decision to close the yard this morning.

A spokesman for TUC South West tweeted: “This decision has left hundreds of workers in the lurch.

“Immediate action must be taken to ensure the workers are supported into decent jobs, upskilled and retrained if need be.”

Bideford mayor Doug Bushby said: “I think it is clear now that Babcock wanted to close Appledore no matter what.

“The challenge now is to find another operator who can breath new life into the yard.”

Mr Bushby added: “One thing that is important is that the yard should not be allowed to be broken up and used for non shipbuilding purposes as that really would be the end of shipbuilding on the Torridge.”

Reaction from Geoffrey Cox

Torridge and West Devon MP Geoffrey Cox said it was now evident Babcock had ‘lacked a real commitment to Appledore’.

He said the MOD had made ‘significant and substantial offers of assistance’ to Babcock to support the workforce while it sough further work.

Mr Cox said: “It is now disappointingly evident that Babcock lacked a real commitment to Appledore and that, even with the help of the Government, it is not prepared to operate a commercial Shipyard and maintain the proud tradition of shipbuilding on the Torridge.

“I shall be meeting the Secretary of State for Defence early next week to hold urgent discussions with him and officials about how the Government might encourage other companies to take over operations at Appledore Shipyard.

“This is a bitter blow for the highly skilled workforce, many of whom have been working on the Torridge for decades, and one of my priorities will be to ensure that there is adequate support for them.

“I will be raising this with the Secretary of State for Business, to discuss how his Department could lend assistance.”

Read Mr Cox’s full statement here

‘Extremely disappointed’ says North Devon MP

North Devon MP Peter Heaton-Jones said he was ‘extremely disappointed’ in Babcock’s decision.

He said: “This is a very worrying time for the employees and their families, as well as for the wider community.

“The first priority now must be to safeguard employment for the workforce, a large number of whom live in the North Devon constituency.

“I welcome Babcock’s commitment that all 200 employees will be offered jobs at other sites in the South West.

“However it is incumbent upon the company now to be very clear, very quickly, about the future employment arrangements for the Appledore workers.”

Mr Heaton-Jones said the decision by Babcock was ‘regrettable’ and that he and Geoffrey Cox had asked the CEO of Babcock for a long-term commitment for the workfore.

He said: “This morning’s announcement does, at least, hold out the prospect that there will be no compulsory redundancies.

“Once again, our first thoughts must be with the employees, their families, and the wider community who will be impacted by this news.

“It is extremely disappointing that Babcock have gone ahead with this decision, and we must now all work together to help those affected.”

Read Mr Heaton-Jones’ full statement here

Working together

Councillor Jane Whittaker, leader of Torridge District Council, said: “This is a very sad day for Torridge but mainly for the dedicated and highly skilled workforce at Appledore who have done so much to support efforts to keep the shipyard running.

“It is very disappointing that recent representations by our councillors, local MP Geoffrey Cox and the public in general have not been successful in preventing the announced closure.

“We will of course be mobilising resources to support workers and their families who are affected by this decision but we will also continue to assist every effort to find a way forward, so that the facilities and capability of the workforce are not lost forever.”

North Devon councillors have extended their sympathies to shipyard workers and have said they will work with Torridge to support them.

Councillor Pat Barker, executive member for economic development at North Devon Council, said: “We are devastated to hear the news this morning and will be working closely with our colleagues in Torridge to do anything we can to help support Babcock at this time.”

Councillor Des Brailey, leader of North Devon Council, added: “This is very disappointing and I feel for the many families who will be impacted by its closure.

“It’s encouraging to hear that Babcock will be offering them the opportunity to relocate to other facilities, but this will be a very difficult time for them and I send my sympathies.”

Questions to answer

Mark Cann, chairman of North Devon Labour Party, said: “This is devastating news – so many families across North Devon and Torridge will be affected by this cynical decision by Babcock.

“The Government and the company both have questions to answer.

“What were the details of the package of support offered by the Government? Why was the offer of £60m not enough for Babcock to maintain the proud tradition of shipbuilding at Appledore?

“The Government now has a duty to explore all avenues to see that these jobs can be saved.

“It is not enough for workers to be offered relocation with the resultant upheaval to all the families. We need these skilled jobs to remain here in North Devon and Torridge.”

Devastating news

David Chalmers, Lib Dem spokesperson for Torridge ansd West Devon, said it was devastating news for the region.

He said: “In an area blighted by low paid low skilled jobs, Appledore stands out as a bright light, offering the sort of well paid, high skilled employment opportunities that we need to inspire our young people and keep them from moving away.

“The Shipyard’s closure will hit hard on our wider community - conservative estimates suggest a loss of over £1million to the local economy.

“At the rally on Saturday I called on Geoffrey Cox to use his position as Attorney General to persuade his Cabinet colleagues that Appledore Shipyard was worth saving.

“It appears that the Government did offer Babcocks a lifeline this morning, but the offer was not enough to keep Appledore viable as a shipyard in its own right.

“The Lib Dems have no doubt that the impact, uncertainty and risk of Brexit has helped to render the shipyard uncompetitive, when competing for international contracts.

“The threat of crashing out of the EU in five months time without any deal has dealt the death blow to hundreds of years of shipbuilding on the Torridge.

“What a Christmas present for the hard working men and women at the Shipyard, their families and the people of Northern Devon.”

‘A real body blow’

The Bishop of Exeter, the Rt Revd Robert Atwell, described the news of the closure of Appledore Shipyard as ‘a real body blow to North Devon’.

He said: “The impact will be felt keenly by all those whose jobs have been lost, by their families, and by the wider community.

“The area does not have many large employers, and losing one that offers skilled, permanent work will undoubtedly have a hugely significant effect on the North Devon community.

“The trades unions have previously said research shows that closing the shipyard would equate to a cost of at least £1.6million in lost taxes and increased benefit payments.

“But these figures do not and cannot give any reflection of the cost in human terms. The lives of people of all ages will be radically altered.

“When the Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson went to Appledore in January this year, he said ‘visiting a shipyard that has built hundreds of vessels and meeting some of the next generation of apprentice shipbuilders leaves me in no doubt of the current resurgence of UK shipbuilding.’

“I hope we can read into this that the Government – and other interested parties - will be taking all proactive steps possible to ensure that the long history of shipbuilding at Appledore does not come to a permanent end in 2018.

“Let us hope those apprentices can still look forward to careers building ships in North Devon.”

ore reaction as we have it.