Sunak announces £20 million investment to secure UK nuclear industry future

LONDON, March 25: Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will declare a “critical national endeavour” to secure the future of the UK’s nuclear industry with a package of investment aimed at boosting skills and jobs amid concerns about defence spending.

The prime minister will tout a new fund backed by £20 million (US$25.2 million) in public money to support growth in Barrow-in-Furness. This Cumbrian town is home to Britain’s Astute-class submarines and Dreadnought programme.

He will commit to a further £180 million a year over the next decade, which Downing Street says would provide grants to local organisations and improvements to transport and health outcomes in the area.

Industry leaders including BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, EDF, and Babcock are partnering with the UK government to invest around £763 million in skills, jobs, and education.

Number 10 hopes the money will create more than 8,000 career opportunities to help the sector fill 40,000 new roles by the end of the decade.

Ahead of a visit to Barrow-in-Furness on Monday, the prime minister said: “Safeguarding the future of our nuclear deterrent and nuclear energy industry is a critical national endeavour.

“In a more dangerous and contested world, the UK’s continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent is more vital than ever. Nuclear delivers cheaper, cleaner home-grown energy for consumers.

“That’s why we are investing in Barrow, the home of UK submarines, and the jobs and skills of the future in the thriving British nuclear industry.

“Today we usher in the next generation of our nuclear enterprise, which will keep us safe, keep our energy secure, and keep our bills down for good.”

The Defence Nuclear Enterprise Command Paper, which the government says will set out for the first time the full breadth of activity aimed at sustaining and modernising Britain’s continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent, will also be laid in Parliament on Monday.

The announcement follows weeks of criticism over the UK government’s resistance to calls for an increase in defence spending amid concerns about the global risk posed by countries like Russia and China.

In a visible sign of unease within the Tory ranks, Foreign Office minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan and Security Minister Tom Tugendhat said a “much greater pace” of investment was needed earlier this month.

Meanwhile, UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps has said he wants a “bigger budget” and called for military spending to be increased to 3 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).

There was no new money for defence in the spring Budget, with Chancellor Jeremy Hunt saying “our spending will rise to 2.5 per cent (of GDP) as soon as economic conditions allow,” but not detailing how that would happen.

That decision has drawn criticism from some quarters, including former service chiefs who have argued that funding should be based on the threat to national security rather than the financial climate.

Sunak has said the government has already announced the largest sustained increase in defence spending since the Cold War and “recently topped up with billions of pounds to strengthen our nuclear enterprise and rebuild stockpiles.”

The Barrow Delivery Board will manage the Barrow Transformation Fund in collaboration with local leaders, who will allocate funding to areas of greatest need, Downing Street said.

The initial £20 million from the Treasury will go towards projects including the completion of construction on the A595 Grizebeck Bypass and “supporting people towards work,” according to Number 10.

As part of his visit, the prime minister is expected to meet apprentices working on the Royal Navy’s nuclear submarines.

The Defence Nuclear Enterprise Command Paper will be laid in Parliament on Monday afternoon by Shapps, Number 10 said.

John Healey, his opposite number, welcomed the government’s commitment but said the opposition Labour party had “long argued” for ministers to secure jobs in Barrow and that Britain would be “better defended” under his party.

But Scottish National Party defence spokesperson Martin Docherty-Hughes MP condemned the plans to “waste another £200 million” on nuclear and accused both main parties of focusing on “the wrong priorities.”

“It is grotesque to throw another £200 million down the drain when the Tories and Labour Party both claim there is no money to improve our NHS, to help families with the cost of living or to properly invest in our green energy future,” he said.

Meanwhile, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer will travel to North Wales to renew the party’s commitment to a publicly owned clean energy company that it says could “get (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s boot off our throat.”

On his first joint visit with new Welsh First Minister Vaughan Gething, he will pledge to “turbocharge jobs and growth” for Wales with GB Energy, a plan to boost homegrown green power including wind farms and carbon capture.

Ahead of the trip on Monday, Sir Keir said: “In an increasingly insecure world, with tyrants using energy as an economic weapon, Britain must take back control of our national energy security.

“After 14 years of a Tory Government kowtowing to fossil fuel dictators, Labour’s plan for energy independence would get Putin’s boot off our throat and power up communities across Britain.”