BAE Systems: Flying High in the North West

Yesterday, I visited two BAE Systems sites in Warton and Samlesbury, Lancashire. BAE is one of the largest defence contractors in the world and has a large footprint in the North West.

On a tour around the sites, I was shown aircraft production lines, spoke to engineers and skilled fitters about their work, discussed the benefits of Europe to the industry and met with trade union officials.

In Samlesbury, large parts of aircraft, such as the wing, are made and tested before being assembled in Warton. At the Lancashire sister site, engineering, design, development and final assembly of aircraft is done, before being tested on the runway. Fitters in Warton spoke of their strong pride of assembling an aircraft and then seeing it fly!

I also visited the solar farm at the Samlesbury site. Nearly 9,000 solar panels provide power to this site cutting £370,000 from the site’s electricity bill every year. The panels provide nearly 20% of Samlesbury’s electricity and stop 1,500 tonnes of carbon being added to the atmosphere every year. BAE’s solar farm is a prime example of industry and environment working hand in hand and I hope other large industries will follow suit.

The North West has a long and proud heritage of building aircraft. Many factories date from before the Second World War with many employees clocking decades of service. Bob, our visits coordinator, has worked at BAE for 44 years himself!

BAE contributes immensely to the North West. It is a key employer, employing 33,000 people across the North West in Lancashire and Cumbria. This results in a vital £3.2 billion direct economic contribution to the region. BAE has also set up a £9.6 million research and development partnership with UK universities, including £740,000 for the University of Central Lancashire.

What is clear is that BAE operates like a family. It is common for apprentices to join at 16 and still be there ten, twenty or even thirty years later. The £20 million apprenticeship scheme gives over 1,000 young people the chance to become high-flying engineers and fitters. BAE also has a graduate scheme (for over 300 university graduates) and a work experience scheme, which attracts one boy and one girl from each school in its catchment area.

With such heritage, such a feeling of community and solidarity and with so many people working such high-quality jobs; it is paramount that whilst BAE’s wings spread around the world, it continues to roost in the North West to allow thousands more careers to take flight.