Five hundred jobs are to be axed at the factory which designs and manufactures the UK's nuclear weapons.
The Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) has announced that the jobs will be cut to “increase the effectiveness and efficiency of operations” at its Aldermaston and Burghfield sites in Berkshire.
The job losses represent around 10 per cent of AWE's permanent workforce. AWE currently employs approximately 4,000 personnel, with a further 3000 contractors working at its premises.
AWE plc, the private company which runs AWE, has embarked upon a 'continuous improvement' programme which critics say is intended to increase its profit margins.
The three corporations behind AWE – US-based arms giant Lockheed Martin and construction company Jacobs Engineering, and Serco, the troubled British outsourcing business – will be paid over £1 billion for running the site during the 2015-16 financial year. The AWE consortium has received a total of approaching £10 billion from the Ministry of Defence since taking over the contract to run the Establishment in 2000.
The trade union Prospect, which represents staff at AWE, said that it was “shocked and disappointed” that the company had decided to announce job losses at a time when the government's nuclear safety regulator has expressed concern about the shortage of skilled personnel within the company. AWE staff were told about the job losses the day after a ballot organised by Prospect to seek their views on industrial action over AWE's annual pay proposal and nine-day fortnight working arrangements had closed.
AWE announced a previous round of job cuts, in which 100 jobs were lost as part of a 'restructuring programme', in May 2010.