The government has claimed that bringing the manufacturing of nuclear warheads back in house will enable it to better “invest in technology”.
Since 1993, the Atomic Weapons Establishment – which is responsible for developing, manufacturing, and managing the UK’s arsenal of nuclear weapons – has operated as a private company, under contract from the government. Hunting-BRAE held the contract until 1999, at which point a 25-year deal was awarded to AWE Management Ltd, a joint venture led by 51% shareholder Lockheed Martin, supported by Serco and Jacobs Engineering.
Defence secretary Ben Wallace announced in parliament this week that, following a review, the “Ministry of Defence has concluded that AWE will revert to a direct government ownership model”. From as early as next summer, the nuclear agency will become an arm’s-length government body, wholly owned by the ministry.
“The change in model will remove the current commercial arrangements, enhancing the MoD’s agility in the future management of the UK’s nuclear deterrent, whilst also delivering on core MoD objectives and value for money to the taxpayer,” he said, in a written statement. “The decision was taken in order to simplify and further strengthen the relationship between the MoD and AWE plc, enhancing the MOD’s ability to invest in the development of the workforce, technology and infrastructure, and therefore in the future of AWE plc.”
Wallace said that the ministry and the incumbent suppliers will “jointly manage the termination of the contract and the transition to the new arrangements which are anticipated to be completed by the end of June 2021”.
“This will be completed in close co-operation with workforce representatives, regulators, the supply chain and the local community,” he said.
Although it will be returning to government ownership, and a new board and leadership team will be appointed, the agency will “continue to draw on private sector specialist support to strengthen capability as well as playing a key role in managing capital projects and contracts”, Wallace said.
Sam Trendall is the editor of Civil Service World's sister title PublicTechnology, where a version of this story first appeared.