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Des Browne: The bidder that has been successful in this competition has proven capabilities, which were confirmed during the evaluation process. That process was technically demanding and adjudicated to the highest standards to deliver training. There is no question but that, despite the fact that we start at a high level of training for our armed forces, this investment and opportunity, when delivered, will improve training for them. The test of that is whether there is support from the chiefs of staff, and there is. The PPP is the chosen procurement method in this case because it brings private sector management expertise, which brings added value, and the ability to have significant capital investment in the estate in a short time, which would have been unaffordable otherwise. Not only that, but it gives the Department the flexibility to increase or decrease the student throughput, with the partner who is involved, over the period of the contract. As far as my Department is concerned, with signed PPP contracts we have a good record in terms not only of value and delivering in
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time, but of delivering what those who charge us with the responsibility of delivering these services want for our forces.

Mr. Don Touhig (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, which will see a world-class training facility at St. Athan, which will greatly benefit Britain’s armed forces. That must be the only criterion for taking this decision: what is best for the training needs of Britain’s armed forces? His announcement means that I will achieve some of my long-held ambitions: to see the defence footprint in Wales greatly increased, to see large numbers of highly skilled jobs created, and to see a boost to our skills base. Will he confirm that private companies will be able to buy into this training facility? That will mean that the entire Welsh economy will have the opportunity to upskill its work force.

Des Browne: I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend’s contribution to the process of identifying the appropriate way of delivering training for the military when he was an Under-Secretary in the Department. Not just as a Member of Parliament for a Welsh constituency, but as a person who has contributed to the progress that has been made—although there is still much work to be done—he is entitled to take some credit for that. He is quite right to say that the centre of excellence that will grow in St. Athan will not only provide our military forces with the opportunity of tailored training across the whole range of phases 2 and 3, but will generate opportunities for the Welsh economy and for skills in Wales itself.

Mr. James Arbuthnot (North-East Hampshire) (Con): I congratulate Metrix and St. Athan on winning the bid. As that result means that Bordon in my constituency will lose the School of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, will the Ministry of Defence work closely with the local community to ensure that the release of MOD land is managed in such a way as to make it a positive experience for Bordon as well as for the MOD?

Des Browne: I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman for his constructive contribution to the process. He realised that there was always a possibility that a facility and opportunities that were there for his constituents in Bordon would be removed, depending on the decision that was made. I reassure him that, almost from the moment that I sit down after the statement and leave the Chamber, we will start to engage with those communities, and with him, where that is appropriate, to ensure that the best advantage is taken of the opportunities that will be created. Over time, this move will provide a range of opportunities for the development of the area. We need to ensure that those opportunities are consistent with the community’s plans for their area and its growth.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): Naturally, I am disappointed by my right hon. Friend’s statement, as Cosford is less than 10 miles from my constituency. The people of the west midlands will be bitterly disappointed as well. My right hon. Friend has
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mentioned on a number of occasions the rigours of the evaluation procedures. Will he tell me on what date the two packages were put to the Treasury for its evaluation and on what date the Treasury gave its evaluation of those two main proposals?

Des Browne: I cannot off the top of my head remember the specific dates. There has been continuous communication between our Department and the Treasury about this proposal, as one would expect. I understand my hon. Friend’s disappointment in relation to Cosford and I commend him—as I will no doubt repeatedly commend others who catch your eye, Mr. Speaker—for his contribution and his advocacy for his community. Looking to the future, Cosford is well placed as a highly flexible defence site. Although I am not in a position today to give more detailed information than what I specifically included in the statement, I can reassure my hon. Friend that in relation to the totality of the opportunities that that site offers, it is our intention that Cosford will continue to make a significant contribution to our total defence services.

Peter Viggers (Gosport) (Con): What weight has been given to personnel issues? Is the Secretary of State aware that for decades there has been a sensible focusing of training and the basing of ships in the Portsmouth and Gosport area, with the result that many service personnel—naval personnel—have made their homes in south Hampshire? A move to south Wales for training purposes will have a devastating effect on their domestic arrangements, and no doubt on the retention of skilled and trained men. Is the Secretary of State aware that, with the move of many surface ships into mothballs, with a threat over the premier port, Portsmouth, and now with this announcement, the Government will have to work very hard to avoid the conclusion that they do not understand the importance of sea power and do not respect the traditions of the service—the Royal Navy and its personnel?

Des Browne: The fact that we are in the middle of one of the biggest, if not the biggest, peacetime warship building programmes that this country has seen is an indication of the Government’s commitment to our Navy. [Hon. Members: “How many ships?”] Hon. Members need to go through the same process as I have gone through over the past several months, during which Chiefs of the Defence Staff have repeatedly explained to me how the capability of the platforms that we now use is much better and greater than it was even a decade ago. It is now redundant to count platforms to determine the delivery of military effect. Hon. Members need to understand the effect of the significant investment that we are making in not only ships, but warplanes and other equipment.

I am conscious that today’s announcement will have an effect on those who work for us on not only the civil side, but the military side, to provide training. There is no plan to close HMS Sultan in the near future. As I said, the earliest move will not take place before 2011 and electro-mechanical engineering training will remain there until 2017. That will give us the opportunity to ensure that we can engage with people to understand their personal ambitions. We will engage
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with them in such a way that we can respond to them and make the best use of them. Hon. Members on both sides of the House seem to have shared the belief that the centralisation of the training and the building of a centre of excellence would bring about a benefit. Some people were always going to be presented with the choice of moving, or moving on.

Dr. Hywel Francis (Aberavon) (Lab): I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement and, as Chairman of the Welsh Affairs Committee, thank him for the fair and transparent way in which the process has been undertaken. I also thank all members of political parties throughout Wales who supported the bid in a non-sectarian way. Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating the institutions of further and higher education in Wales that have supported the bid and made it excellent?

Des Browne: All those who have been involved in supporting, planning and making the bids have behaved entirely appropriately and are to be congratulated on their approach. In a sense, the congratulations that Metrix and Wales deserve arise from the fact that they have emerged as the winners. I cannot repeat often enough that the process was subjected to the most rigorous technical assessment and an assessment of value for money. The winners in the competition came out on top for both packages and in both criteria.

Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): In the negotiations on the programme, what regard was taken of the Welsh Assembly Government’s Wales spatial plan? How will the economic effects of this massive investment be extended beyond Vale of Glamorgan, Cardiff and parts of the valleys?

Des Browne: There was no negotiation or discussion with anyone outside the parameters of the competition itself. We are now entering a phase in which such negotiations and discussions can take place. The hon. Gentleman clearly recognises the possible value to the whole of Wales of today’s announcement, and he is right to do so. However, he might want to point out to the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd), his leader, that it was inappropriate for him to sign an early-day motion in November opposing the entire defence training review programme. The hon. Gentlemen’s colleagues in the Welsh Assembly might now allow some of our armed forces the opportunity to enter Welsh schools, because if they had their way such a thing would be banned.

Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) that many people in the west midlands will be disappointed by the decision, to say the least. Having said that, the Secretary of State has given us a hint about several proposals for RAF Cosford. Will he consider meeting a small delegation of west midlands Members, of which I am the chair, to discuss any future plans?

Des Browne: I cannot make it any clearer that I do not anticipate that Cosford will be anything other than well placed for future opportunities. I have described
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some of them, and there might be others that people might know or speculate about, although I am not in a position to do that. Either the Under-Secretary who has day-to-day responsibility for this area of policy or I will be only too happy to meet my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South (Mr. Cunningham) and other Members from his area to discuss those opportunities to the extent to which they can be discussed. I meant to make the point earlier that all the meetings that I had and all the advocacy of hon. Members, except when they took place on a bilateral basis, were distinguished by their cross-party nature.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): It is clear that defence training at RAF Cosford will end by 2011. Despite the Secretary of State’s comments, we have heard no details, definitive statement or guarantee about the type of defence sector work that Cosford might expect. In his statement, he said that his Department was “exploring a number of proposals for the potential future defence use”, but even those future proposals must go through an approval process. There is thus no guarantee that Metrix, which might have a different view from the Ministry of Defence, will come forward with a learning resource centre, a national training research and development support centre, or, indeed, the national manufacturing skills academy. Will the Secretary of State assure the workers who are watching us live that proposals will be worked up in detail? Will he give those workers details and a guarantee that they will have a bright future, rather than giving us a bland statement that Cosford will have some sort of defence future?

Des Browne: The hon. Gentleman has approached this difficult issue for him and his constituents entirely appropriately and in a genuine cross-party spirit. He has been a consistent advocate for the best interests of his constituents and Cosford. I understand that he is disappointed, but, knowing him, I expect that he will do exactly what his question suggests he will do: gird his loins and start looking for assurances to the extent that he can get them about plans for the best use of Cosford, which could give rise to growth in certain parts of his local community. I, too, am disappointed that the timing is such that I cannot give him any more certainty from the Dispatch Box than that which was in the words that I have carefully used in my statement and my responses to hon. Members’ questions. I expect that the path between his office and my Department will become well worn over the weeks and months to come. He can rest assured that we will work with him, his constituents and the work force to ensure that they get the best possible outcome.

Sarah McCarthy-Fry (Portsmouth, North) (Lab/Co-op): I recognise the huge economic benefits that will accrue to Wales from today’s decision regarding the new centre of excellence at St. Athan. Prior to my right hon. Friend’s visit to Portsmouth tomorrow, will he take account, as part of the naval base review, of the enormous economic benefit that Portsmouth naval base brings to my area, where we hope that we can have as favourable an outcome in the future as Wales has had today?

Des Browne: During last week’s Prime Minister’s questions, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister
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enumerated the benefits that the naval base at Portsmouth brings to the area, of which I am conscious. The review is necessary for the reasons that were set out when it was announced. It will continue and recommendations will be made to me. Until such a time as those whom I have charged with responsibility for carrying out the review feel that they are in a position to report to me, I will leave them to get on with the job. I simply say to my hon. Friend—no doubt I will have plenty of opportunities to repeat this tomorrow when I visit Portsmouth—that the importance of the naval base to the local community and the contribution that it makes to the support of our armed forces, especially the Navy, are not lost on me.

Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): Please will the Secretary of State clarify his enigmatic reference to housing? He said that there will be new build for single accommodation, but in the next sentence he referred to benefits to families from recreational accommodation. Will any married quarters be provided, and who will procure, manage and maintain them?

Des Browne: There will be married quarters accommodation. That is part of the package, and the detail of how that is to be delivered and managed will be worked out in the detailed negotiations.

Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): I welcome the statement, and the news will be a huge boost to south Wales, Cardiff and my constituency of Cardiff, North. Will consideration be given to whether special measures can be put in place to help those aircraft maintenance specialists who lost their jobs in the running down of the Defence Aviation Repair Agency at St. Athan? Some of my constituents were in that position. Will there be any special measures that will help them to retrain as instructors in the new facility, as they have the skills that will be needed?

Des Browne: With respect to my hon. Friend, I am not in a position to deal with the detail of the transferability of any specific skills so that we can meet other demands, in relation to the many aspects of engineering training that will be necessary. I was born and brought up in west Scotland, and I represent and have lived in a constituency that has a long history of engineering. Indeed, I have in my family a chief engineer in the merchant navy. My instinct suggests that it is just the sort of people who have those basic skills who the successful bidder will be looking for to deliver the training needed. I am absolutely certain that opportunities will be found to enable people with those basic skills to do the necessary retraining to allow them to take advantage of jobs.

Annette Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD): Under the circumstances, it is important that the Secretary of State and his Department consider future defence uses for Blandford. I understand that £75 million has been spent at the college there in the past few years. Will he give every assurance that the facilities will be retained for the greater good of the local community?

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Des Browne: The Metrix bid proposes to move the training currently delivered at the Royal School of Signals in Blandford to St. Athan by the end of the transition phase, but, again, no significant moves are currently anticipated before 2011. The RSS is, of course, only one element of the activities undertaken by the Royal Corps of Signals in the camp. We are still reviewing the implications for the headquarters of the signal officer in chief and the other units, including the research and development facilities on the site.

Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State take the first opportunity to ensure that strong, enduring links are built between St. Athan and the universities of Cardiff, Swansea, and Wales, Newport, and particularly that links are built with the defence industries in Newport, such as EADS and International Rectifier? It is understandable that there is disappointment in other parts of the country, but does he agree that this is probably the first time that Wales has had its first share of defence jobs, and can he assure Members—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is on his third supplementary question.

Des Browne: It is logical that the opportunity for such significant investment, and for a centre of excellence for training, should generate a demand for links with all establishments of further and higher education in the area. The things that my hon. Friend suggests I should encourage will happen naturally in any event.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Does the Secretary of State accept that the anguish and the dashed hopes caused by the statement today will be added to by the lack of detail? When will we have an idea of precisely what will happen at Cosford, and of how many people are likely to be given jobs there? Will he come to the House within the next year and tell us that?

Des Browne: I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman will have to accept that the only answer that I can give at the moment is that I will do what he suggests as early as I can; I recognise how urgent the matter is. My expectation is that both my Department and the relevant services should engage immediately with the people who are affected by the decision, to ensure that what will happen in the future, and the opportunities for the future, are shared with them, to the extent that that is known, as we go along.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): There will be an enormously warm reception for the announcement in my constituency and across south Wales—indeed, across the whole of Wales—not least because so many young people in my constituency are in the armed forces and want the best training possible. Is not the most important part of today’s announcement the fact that we are talking about a £16 billion investment in training, so that our armed forces have what they deserve and need—the most advanced, most sophisticated, highest-tech training in the world?

Des Browne: I agree with my hon. Friend. I am pleased to announce that we will be able to make that
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significant investment, but I am also conscious that I am charged with the responsibility of ensuring that we actually deliver, against the very high standards that we have set for training for the armed forces. We recognise that any announcement of this nature, stretching so far into the future, has to continue to be affordable. We cannot have a scheme that starts off promising a lot, but that fails to deliver in the later years because it was not sustainable. I need to make sure that, in the negotiations, we ensure sustainability.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): RAF Cranwell and RAF Digby are in my constituency, and my constituents work at both bases. Will the Secretary of State give the House the precise implications for those two bases? With regard to the letter that he mentioned, of which I have not yet received a copy, will he please put a copy on the board within an hour?

Des Browne: I think that it will be possible for me to put a copy of the letter on the board within an hour. I know that those letters were, on my instruction, being drafted. They could not, of course, be given out before the statement was made. The aerial erector school at RAF Digby is intended to move to St. Athan, and that will affect fewer than 20 staff. The station’s core task as the joint services’ signal wing will remain unchanged. As for RAF Cranwell, all aeronautical and communications engineering training will move to the new tri-service defence training campus in St. Athan in south Wales under package 1. Under package 2, a small element of the Defence College of Logistics and Personnel Administration will transfer, too, and that will affect fewer than 100 staff. As I say, the college’s core initial officer training task will remain unchanged, but I will ensure that the letter gets to the right hon. and learned Gentleman in the time scale that he suggests.

Michael Gove (Surrey Heath) (Con): The Minister has in the past been kind enough to acknowledge the superb work done by the leadership team in Deepcut in my constituency, which is the headquarters of the Royal Logistic Corps. He acknowledged in his statement that the future of logistics training was more complex than the move to St. Athan, but can he give my constituents in Deepcut the same assurance that he gives to those who serve in Cosford and Blandford that the site will continue to serve a defence function in future, sine die?

Des Browne: I am not in a position to give the hon. Gentleman that assurance, but I can give him an assurance that we will engage, in the very short term, with the people who are likely to be affected, because the site will of course be affected by the outcome of the continuing negotiations on package 2, and may have to be vacated if the result of those negotiations allows us to deliver the complex package in the way we want. I am grateful to him for recognising that the second package has a degree of complexity that the first does not; in the first package, there is much more synergy between the different elements of training. However, I will ensure that, to the extent possible, he as Member of Parliament for Surrey Heath is kept up to date on developments.

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