THE Ministry of Defence could get stuck into the minutiae of Barrow bus routes if Furness MP John Woodcock gets his way with the defence secretary next week.
In a highly unusual move, the independent MP will meet Gavin Williamson next week to canvass heavyweight support for plans to transform central Barrow, which include changing the one-way system and bus stops to boost trade for struggling retail outlets.
Mr Williamson will be urged to lobby ministerial colleagues that a new town centre improvement fund should target Barrow on the grounds that a few million pounds invested to make the town centre more attractive could ultimately shave hundreds of millions of pounds off the cost of the submarine build programme.
The poor image of the town centre and relative lack of suitable housing options have been identified by BAE as a key barrier to recruiting and retaining the key staff needed to keep the £31 billion build programme on track and on budget.
Mr Williamson said he would be happy to work across government to help, and he saluted the people of Barrow for the “amazing” work they do in the shipyard.
Mr Woodcock asked: “Is the secretary of state in favour of other departments spending a few million so that he can save hundreds of millions from his budget? If he is, will be put the weight of the ministry behind our drive – with BAE Systems and the community – to make Barrow even more attractive a place to come and stay in, so that we can improve the productivity of the workforce?”
Mr Williamson replied: “Having had the opportunity to visit Barrow a number of times, I know that the town offers so very much. We are very dependent on the residents of Barrow for the amazing work they do in developing our nuclear deterrent. I would be happy to meet you to discuss how we can work across government to deliver that vision.”
Neighbouring MP Trudy Harrison, who acts as a parliamentary aide (principal parliamentary secretary) to Mr Williamson, was immediately in touch to confirm a meeting date for the pair next Wednesday (27 February).
Speaking afterwards, Mr Woodcock said: “The Ministry of Defence doesn’t usually concern itself with civic renewal but this could be a real win-win situation – the government spends a little up front to make potentially massive savings down the line by ensuring the multi-billion pound submarine has the people it needs to be delivered on time. Delays to Dreadnought could not only compromise the UK’s nuclear deterrent, it could cost taxpayers many hundreds of millions of pounds in extra build costs.
“I am delighted that Gavin Williamson has agreed to meet me so quickly and hope he will join us in making the case to other departments that this really is a no-brainer if government can take a step back and look at the bigger spending picture rather than always working in closed silos.
“And if this comes off, we will all benefit from a more attractive town centre with more of the wages generated by the shipyard being spent in the local economy rather than heading off down the A590 at the end of each week.”
This fresh initiative follows Mr Woodcock’s success in persuading housing secretary James Brokenshire to work with Barrow council regeneration and planning officers to kickstart the stalled waterfront marina project. He made a similar case to Mr Brokenshire that new houses are needed for Barrow to complete the national submarine building endeavour on time.
Town hall officers are now engaged with Homes England in taking the project forward.