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Sad day as firm sheds workforce
THERE was sadness and anger in Bridgwater this week as proud BAE systems workers left their factory for the very last time.
The plant near Puriton has supplied the Armed Forces with explosives for more than 60 years but is now shedding its workforce under a government cost-cutting drive.
Around 30 workers have left in the last few days, while 60 more are to stay until July to complete decommissioning.
The former Royal Ordnance Factory has had a distinguished history, including supplying explosives for Sir Barnes Wallis' bouncing bombs in the Second World War.
Sixty years on, the Government has been reliant on BAE munitions for its combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, which several times meant workers destined for redundancy were asked to stay on.
Now though, the axe has fallen and in future, all British munitions will be imported, probably from France or America.
Neil Driver, who has worked at the factory for 35 years and who is chief of shop stewards, said: "The workforce have become an extended family to each other. People have been here for 25 or 30 years.
"It's a very emotional time for them and it'll certainly leave a gap in my life.
"For the area, it's another devastating blow."
Bridgwater MP Ian Liddell-Grainger said: "The Government says it can bring in munitions from other countries but getting rid of this factory is an absolute disaster.
"At the moment, you cannot guarantee a supply of munitions from anywhere.
"It's the end of an era and it's a very, very sad occasion.
"The staff there are absolutely brilliant but they are specialists.
"Now there are no bomb factories in Britain there are no jobs for them."
A spokesman for BAE said: "BAE Systems has been reviewing its munitions business since 2004 in order to develop a long-term sustainable business and continue to ensure security of supply of munitions to our troops anywhere in the world.
"In October 2005 we announced a re-structuring of the Munitions business, which included the closure of the sites at Bridgwater and Chorley.
"Since that time we have built up an established supply base for explosive material for the production of munitions.
"This supply chain, predominantly in Europe, has worked successfully under the current Framework Partnering Agreement with the UK Ministry of Defence, and will continue under the new MASS partnering agreement which we hope to sign shortly with the MOD.
"Maintaining security of supply of munitions remains of paramount importance both to BAE Systems and to the UK MOD and we have continued to meet all UK requirements despite increasing demands from current operations."
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