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Child Care

22. Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op): What steps she is taking to support the development of child care as a business. [13824]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Meg Munn): I have contributed to a number of measures, including the development of a leaflet for businesses to support employees with child care provision, which forms part of the gender equality public service agreement for 2005–08, and in delivering targets within the strategic framework for women's enterprise.

Linda Gilroy: Does my hon. Friend agree that co-operative and mutual models of ownership lend themselves particularly to the child care sector? Will she give consideration to the Get Up and Go nursery on the site of the Community Economic Development Trust in my constituency? Indeed, may I invite her to visit it later this year, when I hope she will come to Plymouth?

Meg Munn: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. United Kingdom research on social enterprises showed that more than 700 of the 15,000 most common types of social enterprise—approximately 5 per cent.—were in the child care business, but I agree with my hon. Friend that the sector has an opportunity to grow considerably more.

I should be delighted to go and see the Get Up and Go child care provision. It sounds extremely interesting, and I hope to be able to visit the nursery soon.

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Armed Forces (Modernisation)

11.31 am

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): (urgent question): To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on his plans for defence modernisation, and in particular if he will make a statement on the future of the Saxa Vord station in Unst.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Don Touhig): Defence modernisation measures announced to Parliament and to Ministry of Defence staff today will improve the support given to our armed forces, release resources for the front line and for new capabilities, and make the best use of taxpayers' money. The future defence supply chain initiative will improve current service levels, enhance operational capability and put the armed forces in a better position to cope with "surge" logistics requirements, while also significantly reducing costs.

The Ministry of Defence has selected an in-house option, which involved close consultation with the trade unions, to provide the best possible combination of effectiveness and cost in our defence supply chain. By updating processes, improving staff training, rationalising the distribution network and closing storage depots at Stafford by the end of 2007, Llangennech by mid-2008 and Longtown by mid-2009, we expect to make savings of over £50 million a year by 2010 and over £400 million during the next 10 years. The new organisation will require about 2,000 fewer civilian posts and about 50 fewer armed forces personnel. Those reductions will contribute to the wider MOD manpower reductions announced in the 2004 White Paper.

A study of the future role of the defence munitions centre at Crombie in west Dunfermline has been completed, and the MOD has decided—subject to consultation with the national trade unions—to implement its recommendations. The study determined that the explosives storage capacity available at DMC Crombie was not required to meet the known and projected storage liability of its customers. In future, Crombie will concentrate on providing a loading-offloading function for Her Majesty's ships and royal fleet auxiliaries, together with berthing and other jetty operations.

If the study's recommendations are implemented, there will be a reduction of 142 posts at DMC Crombie. It is expected that 67 posts will go in the first year, with the remaining 75 being phased out between 2006–07 and 2009–10. Implementation of the recommendations will have the potential to deliver savings of some £18.1 million over 10 years. Subject to the conclusion of trade union consultation, the Army Base Repair Organisation's proposal to start phase 1 of a two-part rationalisation programme will also begin. Phase 1 addresses the immediate impact of the downturn in the ABRO defence revenue projections, but it will not diminish the range of capabilities that the organisation can currently deliver to the front line. As a result, ABRO will reduce its head count to approximately 2,150 posts by 31 March 2006, which includes the potential for up to 246 redundancies.

The changes will realise annual manpower cost savings in the region of £2.1 million in 2005–06, and £8.3 million a year thereafter. As a direct consequence of
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an announcement made today by Rolls-Royce Defence Aerospace on the outcome of an open competition for future overhaul and component repair on RB199 engine modules, up to 50 jobs will also be lost at the Defence Aviation Repair Agency's engines business unit at Fleetlands in Gosport, Hampshire. The Ministry of Defence has agreed that DARA can now begin the formal 30-day consultation process with the trade unions.

The 2003 defence White Paper recognised that the international situation is radically different from that of the cold war. As a consequence, the size and structure of our armed forces have been subject to a great many changes as our armed forces have adapted to meet the changed environment. The Ministry of Defence is also announcing two such changes today. The cold war radar station at RAF Saxa Vord on the Shetland island of Unst will be put on care and maintenance from April 2006, subject to consultation with the trade unions. That will mean that the station is effectively closed, but that the main operational part of the estate will continue to be maintained should it be required for future use. Further work will be undertaken to consider how much of the remainder of the station will be retained. Radar cover at the level required can be provided by other RAF radars augmented by those of the National Air Traffic Service. Placing the station on care and maintenance means that we can reinstate radar capability should the threat assessment change. Some 70 service personnel, 30 MOD civilians and 10 contractor staff will be affected by the proposal.

I understand that that will be disappointing news for our staff, the island of Unst, which has a population of about 700, and the Shetland islands community. Naturally, I will be happy to work with the Scottish Executive, the local authority and hon. Members to consider any measures within the MOD remit that might help the local community adjust to the proposed change.

As announced on 21 July 2004, ground-based air defence will also be transferred to the Army, and the four RAF GBAD squadrons will be disbanded. I can now inform the House that 37 Squadron RAF Regiment based at RAF Wittering will disband by March 2006, that 16 Squadron, based at RAF Honington, will disband by March 2007 and that 15 Squadron and the RAF GBAD wing headquarters, which is also based at RAF Honington, and 26 Squadron based at RAF Waddington, will disband by March 2008. This phased programme will allow the Royal Regiment of Artillery to take over the pan-GBAD role. The RAF Regiment will now focus on its role protecting other elements of the armed forces particularly on deployment.

As part of those changes, both 3 Squadron RAF Regiment, based at RAF Aldergrove—[Interruption.] Hon. Members should be patient, calm down and listen. As part of those changes, both 3 Squadron RAF Regiment, based at RAF Aldergrove and the Queen's Colour Squadron, based at RAF Uxbridge will be expanded by around 40 personnel each to enhance their operational capability to match that of the other four regular RAF Regiment field squadrons. That will improve the units' ability to deploy on operations and so enhance the operational flexibility of the RAF Regiment in its force protection role. Around 340 posts will be lost
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as a result of these changes, which form part of the 7,500 post reductions announced last July. I do not know where Opposition Members were when that was announced. I do not expect any redundancies additional to those announced in the House on 9 December 2004 to result from this announcement.

As a consequence of the decision taken last July, the RAF has conducted an overall review of the structure and basing of the RAF Regiment. As a result of that work, 1 Squadron RAF Regiment will move from RAF St. Mawgan to RAF Honington by March 2007. In addition, 2625 (County of Cornwall) Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force Regiment, based alongside 1 Squadron at RAF St. Mawgan will be disbanded with effect from November 2006. That decision has been taken because Royal Auxiliary Air Force Regiment squadrons need to be based alongside regular units to maximise training opportunities and to give auxiliary personnel access to equipment held by the regular unit. With 1 Squadron's relocation, that would not be possible at St. Mawgan. Around 75 reservists will be affected. Members of 2625 Squadron will be offered the opportunity to continue their reservist activities with other parts of the armed forces reservist organisations or with an alternative RAF unit elsewhere.

We are doing everything possible to mitigate the impact on the people affected by these announcements. Our current plans envisage that the majority of reductions will be achieved through a combination of natural wastage and voluntary early release, but some compulsory redundancies may prove necessary. Staff and the trade unions are being kept fully informed of developments through meetings, briefings and formal consultation.

Finally—[Hon. Members: "Ah!"] Hon. Members want the information, and they are getting it—why are they complaining? Finally, the Ministry of Defence is today announcing that the Royal Navy military afloat reach and sustainability—MARS—project has been granted approval to enter the assessment phase of the programme. That is good news for the Royal Navy and for the UK armed forces as a whole. MARS will be a cornerstone of our future worldwide operations, replacing many of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary's existing ships. It will support our new aircraft carriers and the rest of the fleet, as well as deployed amphibious, land and air forces close to the shore.

Where any of these announcements impact on our people, we are doing everything possible to mitigate that impact. Our current plans envisage that the majority of civilian reductions will be achieved through a combination of natural wastage and voluntary early release but, as I said, some compulsory redundancies may prove necessary. There are no redundancies from armed forces staff, and the trade unions are being kept fully informed of developments through meetings, briefings and the formal consultation process.

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