The Government and BAE use 'jobs' to justify indiscriminate arms selling because it is the one justification that the UK public is inclined to accept.
BAE does employ many workers with valuable skills. But this is not an argument for continuing to throw public money at the company, but rather one for funding areas that will make a beneficial use of these skills. The money should be being spent on projects that genuinely benefit the security and economy of the country, with the most obvious candidate being renewable energy technologies.
Procurement: equipment for the armed forces is paid for by taxpayers.
Research and Development: BAE makes great play of its high-tech work and its Research and Development, but in 2011 80% of this was funded directly by governments. Its 2011 R&D expenditure was £1,149 million of which £222 million was funded by the Group (BAE Annual Report 2011, p.110).
Exports: arms exports are subsidised. In the words of the Financial Times' Alan Beattie,
You can have as many arms export jobs as you are prepared to waste public money subsidising.
Financial Times, 10 August 2010
In response to a report from the Defence Industries Council, the Financial Times stated that
Spending on defence is no better at creating jobs than support for other sectors. Defence R&D may produce spin-offs, but so too may R&D with civilian applications.
Financial Times, September 2009
A December 2011 study by US academics analysed the employment effects of devoting $1 billion to the military versus the same amount of money spent on clean energy, health care, and education. They concluded:
At present the demand for skilled engineers far exceeds supply.
Dept. for Business, Innovation & Skills, 13 July 2011
In February 2012, when talking about local AstraZeneca job cuts, Macclesfield MP David Rutley said
It's a difficult climate out there, [but] there's a skill shortage in the UK, and if you take the example of the big closure in BAE Woodford, within a year most people had found jobs because of the skills they had.
BBC, 2 February 2012
Perhaps the most telling comment has been provided by the arms industry itself. In September 2010, the President of General Dynamics UK (also Vice President-Defence of the arms industry's trade association) was trying to make the case for continued high spending on arms. He told the parliamentary Defence Committee that
... the skills that might be divested of a reducing defence industry do not just sit there waiting to come back. They will be mopped up by other industries that need such skills. We are talking about high-level systems engineering skills, which are often described as hen's teeth. It is an area in which the country generally needs to invest more. You can think of the upsurge in nuclear and alternative energy as being two areas that would mop up those people almost immediately.
Evidence to the Defence Cttee, 8 September 2010
Taking a more positive approach, Barry Warburton, the CEO of the West of England Aerospace Forum, said of last year's MoD budget cuts,
This is a perfect opportunity for diversification and renewable energy presents a massive new market
A turbine blade is not dissimilar to a helicopter blade. It's electrical and mechanical engineering... What is an aircraft made of? What are components of a vehicle made of? When you think about it the technology in the defence industry is very value added and is very flexible.
Insider, 1 November 2010
Despite all the support which it receives from the Government, BAE's UK workforce is in long-term decline and its role in the UK economy is unexceptional. Jane's Defence Weekly (20 April 2011) projected that BAE's military manufacturing employment will decrease from the March 2011 figure of 32,700 to 18,900 in 2015.
In April 2012, the president of ADS, the arms industry's trade association said that 'defence' is a "pretty worried" sector:
We are an industry that is flatlining at best
The Guardian 15 April 2012
Perhaps summing the situation up, the introductory paragraph for a Jane's conference that took place in May 2011 stated
The defense market worldwide is worth a trillion dollars annually. The energy and environmental market is worth at least eight times this amount. The former is set to contract as governments address the economic realities of the coming decade; the latter is set to expand exponentially, especially in the renewables arena.