THE possible loss of over 200 jobs at the Vulcan nuclear submarine base in Caithness would be a “massive blow” to the Far North.
That was said yesterday by Bob Earnshaw, who chairs the Thurso Community Council and the Dounreay Stakeholder Group.
He spoke to the John O’Groat Journal after junior defence minister Peter Luff confirmed the Ministry of Defence does not see a future for the Vulcan test facility after 2015. The decision could mean over 200 jobs going at the site when its current £360 million contract expires.
“This announcement could be a double whammy for Caithness which is already losing jobs because of the decommissioning of Dounreay. On the face of it this does not look good,” said Mr Earnshaw.
He expressed concern the uncertainty could result in some of the skilled workforce moving away from the area.
“The future of the site is in the hands of the MoD and how it sees the future of the nuclear submarine fleet. With modern technology there is no need for a test site on land,” said Mr Earnshaw.
However, he pointed out the workforce is employed by Rolls-Royce. “At the end of the day it is up to the company what happens to the staff,” stated Mr Earnshaw.
“The loss of around 200 jobs would be a massive blow to the Far North, especially if they all go at one time. And it looks as if it might happen a lot quicker than we thought.”
Mr Earnshaw took some solace from the fact Rolls-Royce has indicated it plans to retain a presence in Caithness after its contract with the MoD ends.
“The company may be looking at other areas of work in the area such as renewable energy or marine engineering. I would urge Rolls-Royce to look at these things in the future,” said Mr Earnshaw, who stressed he would like to see more detail about the implications of this week’s announcement by the MoD.
Far North MSP Rob Gibson called on the UK Government to help offset the looming job losses at Vulcan. He also wants clarification on future plans for the site.
“They can’t be allowed to walk away. In the USA the defence department provides large amounts of money to help utilise such skills and that should be done here. We want to maintain and, if possible, increase our population in Caithness.
“Vulcan has served the community for decades and it is vital that is recognised and help given to try and secure alternative work.”
Mr Gibson was unhappy the MoD still has to decided if Vulcan will be maintained after 2015 or go into full decommissioning mode.
“The idea of keeping the site on a care-and-maintenance basis is unacceptable. The MoD must make clear what its future plans are for Vulcan,” said the Caithness, Sutherland and Ross MSP.
Rolls-Royce is keen to get involved in renewable energy and Mr Gibson hoped the company would be able to use the skills of its workforce in any forthcoming local projects.
A similar view was expressed by Landward Caithness councillor David Flear. He said it would be sad to see jobs being lost at Vulcan but hoped the skilled workforce would find employment in the local renewable and marine energy industry.
“We have got to look to future opportunities in the area,” he said.
John Deighan, secretary of Thurso and Wick Trades Council, said the loss of Vulcan would be another headache for an area already battling to replace the 2000 jobs going at Dounreay.
“It’s not an immediate threat but it’s certainly adding to the socioeconomic woes we’re facing,” said Mr Deighan.
The union official added: “We’ve known for some time that this was the way Vulcan was going and it adds to the drive to create new employment here.”
He said the UK and Scottish governments need to step up support for training, inward investment and the area’s infrastructure.
Mr Deighan also welcomed Rolls-Royce’s commitment to outlive Vulcan.
“I believe Rolls-Royce have stepped up to the mark and will make a genuine attempt to bring new employment to this area.”
Eann Sinclair, manager of Caithness and North Sutherland Regeneration Partnership, said the MoD announcement adds to the scale of the task of regenerating the local economy.
But he claimed the work private and public agencies have done to offset the Dounreay rundown will make it easier to cope with the end to operations at Vulcan.
Earlier this week, Mr Peter Luff said from 2015 Vulcan would have no role in the servicing of the nuclear submarine fleet, which would be powered by a new generation of pressurised water reactor.
He said options for the future of the site are currently being assessed.
The decision will mean major cuts in the 265-strong permanent workforce, employed by Rolls-Royce, and in the work local contractors currently get at the site.