As Labour has decided the prospect of spending vast sums on Trident renewal wasn't worth debating, I thought I'd do a quick back-of-the-envelope thing on the numbers being bandied about. Obviously Trident is, in terms of defence, a non-starter, as reasonably well outlined by Diane Abbott in her recent Guardian column. But people do like to go on about how many jobs it provides, so I thought I'd take a look at that.
Currently two numbers are being used, depending what side you're on. The MoD reckons £20 billion will be spent over 40 years, CND says £100bn.
I'll do both for comparison, however it should be noted that the MoD is legendarily bad at estimating the costs of its projects (and with good reason - it's a smart policy to sell a new carrier to the Commons at rock-bottom prices and then say when it's halfway done "whoops, actually we missed these bits, oh well can't stop now). And if we were to use the annual £2bn-ish running cost for the current incarnation of Trident that'd amount to £80bn.
This is another disputed one, At the absolute kindest, and to avoid any accusations that I'm sugaring the anti-nuclear pill, Unite says 13,000 jobs depend in some way on Trident happening. The MoD says 11,000 but has itself been accused ofinflating the numbers.
So, if we spend £20bn over 40 years our nice neat number is £500m a year, on 13,000 jobs. At that rate, £38,462 is being spent per role on this pointless deterrent (which frankly seems ludicrously low given the sorts of high-skill roles we're supposedly talking about here, but hey).
If we were to even that out paying people the average wage of £26,500, to I dunno, fill in on chronic nursing shortages, or maintain crumbling schools rather than build something that'll sort of sit there for 40 years so politicians can strut around being all Billy Big Bollocks, 19,230 people would have gainful employment. Which isn't such a huge discrepancy I guess, but if we were to use a slighlty utilitarian take on it, more people would actively be able to survive, doing things which actively make other people happy.
If we take CND's figure however, the numbers get a bit eye-popping. Stretched over the proposed 40-year lifecycle of the project it amounts to £192,500 spent per job per year of which, if you're into the whole patriotism thing, large amounts goes to the US for building and maintaining the missiles.
Under these circumstances, if we instead spent that money on say, just giving random people £26,500 a year for an entire working lifetime to make crazy inventions in their shed, that'd employ 94,339 people, or a little bit more than the entire working population of Dudley.
In the end though of course, this is all about politics, not utility. UK politicians want something they can parade in front of other countries (look we're part of the elite five) because economically they don't have the clout they once enjoyed. Unions chiefs are hamstrung because, as professionals, the nuke techs are mostly unionised and pay a great deal into various coffers in and around Holborn. The papers and right want something to remind them of the glory days of empire.
So even though the public don't want it, it serves no useful function, and it's an actively inefficient way of distributing state funds to create employment, it'll be sticking around as long as there's breath in the body of the Parliamentary Labour Party. Or until a public movement of some sort comes along, which sadly seems unlikely as it stands.
Update: A new figure seems to have been admitted by the MoD and confirmed by news agency Reuters - £167bn over the lifetime of the project. So our numbers are now 13,000 jobs for 40 years, at a cost of £321,154 per person, per year.
For context, the Prime Minister himself is paid £142,500, so you could hire 29,298 David Camerons for that price. Not that you'd want to.