§ Mr. John MacKay
asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether he is now in a position to make a statement about the future of the underwater training centre, Fort William.
§ Mr. Peter Morrison
Following a review of the centre in 1979, the Government and the Manpower Services Commission concluded that the centre could not continue indefinitely to rely almost completely on public funding. In March 1980, the Public Accounts Committee reported that it did not believe there was a case for continuing the centre unless the industry was prepared to finance itso that all support from public funds … can be discontinued or very substantially reduced".Since then the Government have sought to find a way to ensure the future of the centre and have undertaken protracted negotiations with a view to transferring its financing and management to the industry. The Government have aimed to secure a phased withdrawal of public sector funding, consistent with their view that the industry should progressively assume full responsibility for meeting its own training needs.
The Government regret that, in the event, it has not proved possible to reach an agreement which offers this and which recognises the substantial investment of around £6 million that the Government have made in the centre since it was set up in 1976. In these circumstances, the Government believe that further public funding of the centre would not be justified. Financial support by the taxpayer will, therefore, cease at the end of April when existing trainees have completed their courses and, with my right hon. Friend's approval the MSC will be taking the appropriate action.
Whilst the Government recognise that the centre has come to be recognised as a source of high quality training for the offshore diving industry, it believes that the industry should be ready to accept responsibility for meeting its own needs in relation to diver training. The Government will continue to enforce the Diving at Work Regulations to ensure that standards of training and safety in offshore diving operations are maintained.