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engineering the future


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the millennium dome and british aerospace

As part of this year’s Remembrance work, the PPU issued a press release and protested to the Prime Minister about the involvement of arms companies in the Millennium Dome, and in the British education system. We pointed out the hypocrisy of this government doing deals with arms manufacturers at the same time as laying wreaths in memory of those killed in war. It was, no doubt, a bit too subtle for the press, but this is a concern that can be pursued throughout next year. It is of particular concern that British Aerospace is moving into schools as part of a massive campaign to help train the engineers of the future – or what amounts to designers and producers of weapons since armaments are BAe’s major business.

British Aerospace claim that their new merger with Marconi Electronic Systems will make them ‘a formidable competitor in the global defence market-place’. In addition to the manufacture of missiles, aircraft (including the Hawk which ‘continues to attract substantial market interest’) and communications systems, they own Royal Ordnance (including small arms manufacture). In 1997 their defence sales were £6,357,000,000. Their post -tax profit was £161 million.

‘Work out how our minds can create a better future’, states the publicity for the Mind Zone, sponsored by British Aerospace and Marconi (soon to be merged). British Aerospace are inviting 200 schools to take part in an ‘exciting learning experience’ at the Mind Zone. In conjunction with the New Millennium Experience, British Aerospace is also putting £3 million into a national education programme known as ‘Engineering our Future’. British Aerospace are providing young engineers to support 500 schools; they are producing curriculum materials in conjunction with Sheffield Hallam University; and running science fairs.

British Aerospace claims its £6 million sponsorship is to help train the engineers of the future. But ‘Altruism is definitely not the name of the game’, says BAe, ‘working with education makes good business sense.’ What this world’s fourth largest arms manufacturer is trying to do is to ensure a steady flow of highly trained engineers and scientists to enable it to design, produce and profit from the sale of weapons well into the next century. Their Millennium project director thinks too few people have heard of British Aerospace and considered a career in engineering. ‘We are one of the UK’s biggest companies but people do not know a great deal about us. We are trying to get people to think differently about science and engineering’.

British Aerospace are open about their corporate strategy – their website says ‘the company supports the following three groups of charities: youth, the Armed Services and medical research organisations.’ They give ‘charitable’ donations to the British Legion; and are involved with the Air Training Corps, which exists to encourage a military attitude in young people from 13 upwards.

British Aerospace is reported to have sponsored a question and answer session on education at the Labour Party conference this year. The Labour Party will not confirm this, though they did confirm verbally that British Aerospace had sponsored something..... Since this was clearly commercially confidential, they suggested, very nicely, that I speak to British Aerospace instead.

British Aerospace are not the only company going into schools in a big way – one of the major sponsors of the Dome is MacDonalds, who cleverly chose the ‘Our Town Stage’ to sponsor so they could reach the maximum number of local communities and involve them in sharing their history. One of the ‘delightful’ exercises for schools being produced in conjunction with the New Millennium Experience involves activities cards with the logos of the Dome’s sponsors and partners (British Aerospace are not a full sponsor – presumably someone realised that might be too embarrassing!). Clearly the new millennium is a corporate-sponsored nightmare. It is time to reclaim the future from the arms manufacturers and those who support them.

Lucy Beck


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