Stevenage industries prepare to weather the storm

BIG players in Comet country’s high-tech industries say they’re set to weather the frugal times ahead despite cuts in government funding.

Stevenage has long had extensive links to both the space and weapons industry going back to the ill-fated Blue Streak ballistic missile project in the 1950s.

MBDA’s Stevenage branch, on Gunnelswood road, is a leading weapons research and development centre in the UK which currently receives government funding.

Numerous high-tech weapons projects are under way at the site at any time and MBDA provide weaponry to forces on both sides of the channel.

A spokesman for the company said: “The Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) clearly lays out the future direction for our UK Armed Forces.

“It also specifically confirms the continued need for complex weapons that are currently developed by MBDA and this can only be viewed as positive for our employees at Stevenage.

“Looking forward, we will continue to work closely with the MOD to assist them with the savings that they will be making across defence.

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“We will also continue to design, develop and deliver affordable equipment for our UK Customer and at the same time sustain UK sovereign technologies and capabilities here in Hertfordshire and elsewhere.”

The Astrium plant, also in Stevenage, employs hundreds of staff and is a global player in the space and telecommunications industry.

The company are currently developing a prototype Mars rover and receive very little government funding.

A company spokesman said: “It’s early days but science spending wasn’t cut as everyone was expecting.

“It was only something like less than 10 per cent in terms of overall spending.

“We have got such a big order backlog we have work going through to the next couple of years.

“Space has been quite robust going through the recession, I’m not saying we’re recession proof but if you look at the whole space sector it has grown.

“We are not super reliant on government money we build satellites for big private companies.”

Richard Peckham, Astrium’s UK business development director, said: “Space is definitely important to economic recovery.

“There’s a lot of areas of industry that have gone in to China but space is one we still have where we can still compete.”

The Institution of Engineering and Technology, who have a site in Stevenage, are Europe’s largest body of professional engineers and technologists, and have welcomed the governments commitment to safeguarding tertiary education.

Paul Davies, Head of Policy at the IET said: “The announcement of a 50 percent increase in funding for adult apprenticeships should be welcomed if it leads towards fulfilling the needs of engineering employers”.

“Bridging the engineering skills gap depends upon concerted effort within schools, colleges, universities and by employers to encourage more people to attain the necessary skills and qualifications.

“So while there may be some positive news from today’s announcements from the government, the changes to school, college and university funding must be carefully managed, to ensure the future of the skills-based economy.”