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Mr. Ingram: Of course, the flow of parts is a key component of any support mechanism. If my hon. Friend is talking about his other concerns regarding the situation in Chorley and munitions support, we have put in place a comprehensive agreement between ourselves and BAE Systems to ensure that the munitions supply chain is maintained for the good reason that that is 110 per cent. essential.
As for whether the new platforms will be better than the old ones, I have to say yes. They are certainly more expensive. I do not know which platforms and maintenance my hon. Friend is talking about, but we want to ensure that we get the best capabilities to maintain the supply chain and the supply and support mechanism. What we are doing is fundamentally correct. I know that the process is painful and difficult, but if we did not do it, we would be spending money unwisely on defence.
Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD):
The Minister says that ABRO has become more efficient. Does he accept that many of the loyal, dedicated and skilled work force at Colchester ABRO will lose their jobs? He has combined Warminster and Colchester in the assessment of job losses and creations, so will he give me a breakdown of the figuresI assume that the respective figures must be known? When Colchester is being developed as a super-garrison, what is the logic behind taking away logistical support to such an extent? Is it not the case that what was before the Minister was the fact
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that the REME Workshops, as ABRO used to be known, sit on a prime edge-of-town-centre site and that we are thus seeing asset stripping?
Mr. Ingram: No, we are not. The hon. Gentleman asked for figures, so these are the round figures based on the current best information. The maximum number of redundancies at Colchester will be 96, after which 69 personnel will still be employed in the Colchester area. Those people will primarily be in barracks, so the support for the brand new multi-billion pound facility will be closer to the REME support. I was pleased to cut one of the first sods for that facility in the hon. Gentleman's presence not so long ago. We are retaining close engagement between the support end of ABRO and the engineering end of the Army. That is what the Army wants, so we are meeting its requirements.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): I am sure that the vast majority of my constituents will understand that the Ministry of Defence has to deliver operational efficiency for every single penny at the front line. However, does my right hon. Friend understand that many of my constituents will feel perplexed, angry and frustrated when they see a Government building up DARA at St. Athan, but then effectively dismantling it only a few years later? When he talks to the Welsh Assembly Government, will he please ensure that the support package for my constituents who lose their jobs will be provided not only near to St. Athan, but close to the valley communities in which people live, many of which will be just as affected as the Vale of Glamorgan?
Mr. Ingram: I hope that those people will not be perplexed after they have heard our reasoning and logic, although I well understand the anger of people who lose their jobs. I make this point about the Red Dragon facility. If it had not been built, DARA would have had no future. Anyone who has followed the matter will realise that I took a long time before reaching that conclusion. We were able to deliver the facility because of close engagement with the Welsh Development Agency. There was a bit of trading with the agency because it said that certain things would happen on the back of the development, so it had to make a contribution to the overall package because of its role on economic attraction. That investment was correct. The facility still remains and will be highly marketable. VC10 work will remain and its capacity to attract a major player, ATC Lasham, to St. Athan shows that there are prospects for development if we get the right ingredients. That is what we are seeking to dowe are not walking away, and we will maintain our commitment while we have an MOD interest in that area.
Mr. Christopher Fraser (South-West Norfolk) (Con): Given the work that RAF Marham in my constituency will undertake, can the Minister give me an assurance that the decision will not be detrimental to local employment on the base nor result in additional environmental damage or noise pollution?
If the hon. Gentleman wishes to stop noise pollution perhaps he does not want an air force base in his locality. RAF bases cause noise, but they
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bring a great deal of useful and important work. We must ensure that the RAF, which deploys fast jets to the front line has the capability to sustain them in theatre. That is important, and it goes back to my point that the pilots who fly those jets are the ultimate arbiters. At the end of the day, they do not care who maintains those jets as long as they do so properly and provide an effective fighting machine for the front line. That will only be the case, however, when RAF personnel work alongside them. As for the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that opportunities will be lost, RAF Marham is gaining an opportunity and has a long-term future. I should have thought that he would welcome that.
Derek Conway (Old Bexley and Sidcup) (Con): The Minister may recall that last week I pressed the Secretary of State on the availability of Warrior armoured fighting vehicles in Iraq. Given his statement this afternoon, in which he rightly told the House that the overhaul time has been cut by half to just over a couple of months, will his new costing strategies allow that target still to be met? The shortage of that excellent vehicle matters to people on the front line, and he was right to highlight the implications of his statement for those individuals.
Mr. Ingram: I think that the hon. Gentleman was complimenting me on the announcement. If that is the case, I welcome it, because I have not received many compliments today. However, he is right. The proposal aims to improve the throughput of vehicles, so that they are not sitting in a maintenance yard but are being worked on and turned around and can reach the front line. We have increased throughput and tempo, as it is important that front-line soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere are properly supplied. However, we must also tackle logistics, which is why difficult decisions must be taken.
Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): I cried out, "Shame" when the Minister made the announcement about Donnington, because many of my constituents work at that facility. It has come as a great shock to me, as well as to the hon. Member for Telford (David Wright) and my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard). I concur with everything that they said, but I have two further questions for the Minister. Will he come to Shropshire to explain his decision to our constituents, and what retraining schemes does he intend to put in place for them? There was a great deal of help for Rover in the run-up to the election, but I hope that, even though there is not a general election in the offing, he will help our constituents to find new jobs.
I could have shouted "Shame" at the hon. Gentleman, given that, during the election, he campaigned to get rid of ABRO. His party did not want to try to reconfigure it, or make it better able to deal with future supply chain needs. The decision on the future defence supply chain initiative was a good one, as it provides a long-term commitment. I reiterate the point that the winner of the FDSCI contract competed against the private sector. At the election, the hon. Gentleman campaigned for the private sector to run almost the entire supply chain for the armed forces. If he wishes to see some shame, perhaps he should look in the mirror.
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As for retraining schemes, cross-Government agencies are working to minimise the effect of the announcement on individuals. Responsibility does not rest with the MOD alone. One of my hon. Friends asked whether we would engage a taskforce, and the answer is yes. We will do all that we can to mitigate the effects of the proposals. The Defence Storage and Distribution Agency already has a commitment, and it will look at the facilities to see whether additional jobs can be provided.
Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): Representations from across the sector would lead us to believe that the Government have announced a poor decision today, and only time will tell how the well-being of the men and women who serve in the Army and the RAF will be affected. The announcement is demoralising for south Wales. The St. Athan aerospace park sounds good, but it will have an empty ring unless it is accompanied by real investment. Will the Minister provide an assurance on behalf of the MOD that any resources from the sale of the VC10 servicing facility will be available in combination with funds from the Welsh Assembly to make the aerospace park an attractive place for industry to relocate?
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