HC Deb 16 September 2004 vol 424 cc164-5WS
The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram)

Following extensive work to identify the best way forward for military aircraft support, I am announcing today my preferred option, subject to trades union consultation.

In 2003 the Ministry of Defence undertook an end-to-end review of the logistics process from the front line to industry. This review, the results of which I announced on 10 September 2003, concluded that there was a need, and substantial scope, for improvement in all areas of military air systems support—in industry, the Defence Logistics Organisation (DLO) and the services front line commands alike.

The review recommended that on-aircraft depth support—deep repair, scheduled maintenance and modification of aircraft—could best be rationalised by concentrating at main operating bases (MOBs), and that this conclusion should be tested in an investment appraisal.

The investment appraisal identified three broad options—to concentrate forward support of certain air platforms to MOBs, to concentrate backwards the same platforms to Defence Aviation Repair Agency (DARA) sites and where appropriate industry sites, or a hybrid solution with some platforms concentrated forward and others back.

In order not to prejudice the in-service date of the upgraded Harrier GR9 of 2006, I have already announced that Harrier support will concentrate forward to the MOB at RAF Cottesmore.

The wider investment appraisal and subsequent affordability analysis has demonstrated that concentrating support of the Tornado GR4 aircraft forward at the MOB at RAF Marham would provide best value for money compared with the alternative of concentrating backward on the DARA site at St. Athan.

Conversely, the work has demonstrated that it would not be cost-effective to concentrate the Tornado F3 aircraft either forward or back, given that it will soon be replaced by Typhoon. The work has also shown that it would provide better value for money to concentrate depth support for Lynx, Chinook and Sea King back to DARA Fleetlands.

My preferred way ahead is consistent with the announcement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence on 21 July this year, which set out the need for the armed forces and their associated support functions to evolve in order to meet the demands of a changing world.

The streamlining of our logistic and support functions, such as those which flow from the end-to-end logistics review, will help the Department meet its targets under the efficiency review. In conjunction with the £3.7 billion increase to the defence budget, it will enable us to continue to modernise our armed forces, tailoring our military capability to meet the challenges of the future.

Our preferred way forward has implications for our military and civilian work-force, as well as for our partners in industry who undertake depth support of military aircraft.

Concentrating support for rotary aircraft at DARA Fleetlands offers the opportunity to exploit fully the economies of scale that may be achieved by collocating these platforms at a single centre. Sufficient defence work would remain at DARA St. Athan to enable continued operations there until 2008–09.

We will explore with other Government Departments alternative options for St. Athan after 2009, although the migration of work and the withdrawal from service of some platforms means that 500 redundancies would be needed there in 2005. In the longer term, failure to win alternative work would result in the closure of St. Athan.

The application of end-to-end principles will ensure that the MOD works smarter and will improve efficiency by adopting modern best practice in supporting our military aircraft. It will lead to reductions of some 1,500 RAF uniformed personnel, which form part of the overall reductions of 7,500 set out in the 21 July announcement on force structure changes and defence change and modernisation programmes.

There would also be modest reductions in MOD civilian posts and contractor staff posts at RAF Lossiemouth, RAF St. Mawgan and Wattisham and RNAS Yeovilton. Other service personnel would be transferred to the new depth support locations.

A formal consultation period of 30 working days will now begin with the trades unions. Once a final decision has been taken detailed consultation on the implementation of it will follow.