How Scotland’s arms dealers held thousands of meetings with UK Government behind closed doors

Five private companies who employ around three quarters of the workforce in Scotland’s arms industry had thousands of closed door meetings with the UK Government between 2011 and 2020.

As part of The Ferret’s Who Runs Scotland investigation we looked at 70 firms operating in Scotland’s defence industry and examined data about them obtained by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT).

The special access at Westminster given to BAE Systems, Leonardo, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Thales, amounted to 2217 meetings with the UK Government including 40 when representatives from the Prime Minister’s office were present, lasting a collective 58 hours.

In 2018 alone the five companies collectively had contracts with the Ministry of Defence worth £2.42bn. We also found that 87 people who worked for one of these five firms had also worked for the UK Government, making them so-called ‘revolving door’ employees.

BAE Systems, Leonardo, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Thales are among the largest arms firms in the world. They are the biggest players in Scotland’s arms industry and together employ at least 7,227 – or 72 per cent – of the estimated 10,000 people employed by the sector. Defence is worth £1.9bn to the economy, according to ADS Group, a body representing the industry.

But critics have questioned the secret power and influence they wield at Westminster, and the revolving door between the industry and Whitehall, amid concerns that UK arms sales fuel global conflicts for profit . CAAT said these private firms have a “huge voice in the corridors of power, with little in the way of transparency or accountability”.

As long as arms dealers are cavorting with ministers and sitting on decision making bodies then we will continue to see policies that put arms sales ahead of human rights

Andrew Smith, Campaign Against Arms Trade

BAE Systems, headquartered in the UK, is the world’s seventh largest arms company and employs 3,000 people in Scotland. The firm supports Saudi Arabia on the ground in Yemen’s war and has sold weaponry worth £17.6bn to them. It had 1,283 private meetings with the UK Government while 28 staff also worked for the government. It’s MoD contracts in 2018 were worth £1.3bn.

US company Raytheon had 106 meetings lasting 125 hours, and 14 staff were “revolving door” employees. The meetings included seven with the Prime Minister’s office lasting 11 hours.

In 2018 Raytheon had £270m of MoD contracts. Its Paveway IV guided bombs, aka smart bombs, are manufactured in Harlow and Glenrothes. They have been sold to Saudi Arabia and used in airstrikes on Yemen that hit civilian targets, as reported by The Ferret.

Raytheon employs around 700 people in Glenrothes and has taught science courses in Fife schools.

Italian company Leonardo employs around 2,000 people at Crewe Toll, Edinburgh. The firm had 14 “revolving door” employees and 283 meetings lasting 247 hours. These included nine with the Prime Minister’s office lasting 12 hours. In 2018 the firm had £440m of contracts.

French firm Thales employs 700 people. It had 260 meetings lasting 284 hours and 18 staff were revolvers. Meetings included seven when representatives from the Prime Minister’s office attended. The firm had £241m of MoD contracts in 2018.

Illustration by David Peter Kerr.

US firm Lockheed Martin is the world’s largest defence company. Thirteen employees worked for the government and it had 285 meetings lasting 275 hours. These included seven lasting 11 hours when Downing Street officials attended. It had £172m of MoD contracts in 2018.

Defence is a reserved matter for the UK Government but arms firms also lobby at Holyrood. According to the Scottish Parliament’s lobbying register Thales had 10 meetings since 2018. It met with former Labour leaders Richard Leonard and Johann Lamont, former Tory leaders Jackson Carlaw and Ruth Davidson, and SNP business minister, Jamie Hepburn.

Rather than enabling that, the UK should be supporting efforts to have those nations investigated for the war crimes they have most assuredly committed.

Ross Greer, Scottish Greens external affairs spokesperson

There was also a meeting with SNP MSP Richard Lochhead when he was further education minister in March 2019, “to seek to help in shaping the Scottish Government’s strategy for science, technology, engineering and mathematics” in schools.  Lockheed Martin had nine meetings at Holyrood, and BAE registered eight. But Raytheon and Leonardo are not listed for that period.

Scottish Enterprise, the Scottish Government’s business agency, has given taxpayers’ money to these firms via business grants. Leonardo – a company worth £7bn – has received more than £8m since 2015. Thales received £98,000 last year while Raytheon has been given more than £200,000. BAE Systems was given £1.6m between 2016 and 2020. Lockheed Martin received £176,615.

Arms Industry and Whitehall

Critics of the special access of arms firms include Andrew Smith of the Campaign Against Arms Trade. He said: “As long as arms dealers are cavorting with ministers and sitting on decision making bodies then we will continue to see policies that put arms sales ahead of human rights.”

He added: “The arms companies aren't spending this time lobbying for the good of their health. It's because they want to influence policy and boost their profits. It's time that the revolving door between the arms industry and Whitehall was slammed shut."

Scottish Greens external affairs spokesperson Ross Greer said: “It is grim but sadly unsurprising that arms dealers have such extensive access to Downing Street. Weapons and equipment manufactured by these companies are sent straight to the world’s most brutal regimes, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel.

He added: “Rather than enabling that, the UK should be supporting efforts to have those nations investigated for the war crimes they have most assuredly committed. Of course, the Scottish Government’s hands are hardly clean here either. They too need to immediately end the funding of these arms companies via Scottish Enterprise.”

In reply a UK Government spokesperson said it regularly meets with government contractors to “address a range of matters important to national security and investment”.

“We hold our contractors to the highest security standards and have robust measures in place to ensure codes and ethics are followed,” the spokesperson added.

Photo Credit: roibu/iStock

A BAE Systems spokesperson said: “As a major supplier of equipment and services to the UK Ministry of Defence, employing thousands of people across the UK, we have regular engagement with our customer to discuss the delivery of our complex programmes which provide vital capabilities to our armed forces.”

In response to our findings, a Lockheed Martin spokesperson said: “Our employment policies adhere to the government’s business appointment rules and we abide by any restrictions placed on employees, consultants, and contractors. We act in accordance with legislation on the transparency of lobbying, and are rated in the Transparency International UK’s Corporate Political Engagement Index.”

A spokesperson for ADS said: “The sector works within UK ethical and transparency standards that are among the most robust of any country in the world.”

Leonardo and Raytheon did not reply to our requests for a comment. Thales acknowledged our request but did not comment.

This investigation is part of our wider series Who Runs Scotland. We will be shedding a light on ownership and power in Scotland’s economy, environment and politics.

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Illustration by David Peter Kerr.

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