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UK’s nuclear industry to get £200m boost amid defence concerns, Rishi Sunak announces

Rishi Sunak will declare a “critical national endeavour” as he unveils a £200m package of investment aimed at securing the future of the UK’s nuclear industry and boosting jobs.

The prime minister will introduce a new fund backed by £20m a year in public money for the next decade to support growth in Barrow-in-Furness, the Cumbrian town that is home to Britain’s Astute class submarines and forthcoming Dreadnought programme.

Downing Street says the money will provide grants to local organisations and improvements to transport and health projects in the area.

The nuclear industry is expected to require 50 per cent more skilled workers in the next decade as it becomes more central to UK energy and national security.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has announced the nuclear investment amid concerns about the government’s defence spending (PA Wire)
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has announced the nuclear investment amid concerns about the government’s defence spending (PA Wire)

The move comes amid concerns about the UK’s level of defence spending as two serving ministers have urged Mr Sunak to increase defence spending to at least 2.5 per cent of GDP in the face of escalating Russian aggression and concerns about stability in the Middle East.

There was no uplift for defence spending in the spring budget as chancellor Jeremy Hunt told MPs, “Our spending will rise to 2.5 per cent [of GDP] as soon as economic conditions allow,” without detailing how that would happen.

Defence secretary Grant Shapps has also conceded that he’d like to see a “bigger budget” from the current level of just over 2 per cent, and called for military spending to be increased to 3 per cent of GDP.

Mr 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.”

Today’s announcement also includes a significant injection of cash from industry leaders including BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, EDF and Babcock, who will be investing £763m between them in skills, jobs and education.

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. And nuclear delivers cheaper, cleaner homegrown energy for consumers.

Barrow-in-Furness is home to Britain’s Astute class submarines and Dreadnought programme (PA)
Barrow-in-Furness is home to Britain’s Astute class submarines and Dreadnought programme (PA)

He added: “That’s why we are investing in Barrow, the home of UK submarines, and in 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.”

Industry leaders have warmly welcomed the plans. Charles Woodburn, BAE Systems chief executive, said: “Barrow is at the heart of the UK’s submarine enterprise and as the custodian of our submarine design and build capability, we’re incredibly proud of the role we play in the Astute, Dreadnought and now SSN-AUKUS programmes.”

David Lockwood, CEO of Babcock International, said the measures were a “fantastic opportunity for the UK to deliver a stronger nuclear industry that will contribute to the resilience of the UK’s independent deterrent and will support the UK’s energy security ambitions and net zero targets.”