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Defence Training Review

Volume 455: debated on Wednesday 17 January 2007

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the defence training review rationalisation programme. Before I do so, however, I am sure that the whole House will join me in extending their condolences to the friends, family and colleagues of Marine Thomas Curry, Lance Corporal Mathew Ford and Kingsman Alexander Green, who were killed in operations in Afghanistan and Iraq over the weekend and earlier this week. I pay tribute to their bravery, professionalism and courage. No words can express my admiration for our armed forces and the work that they do daily in the most difficult and challenging of circumstances.

In November 2004, the Ministry of Defence issued invitations to negotiate for two contractual packages under the defence training review rationalisation programme. The programme is a large and complex public-private partnership project that seeks to transform the way in which we deliver six types of specialist training on a defence-wide basis to support better the future needs of the armed forces.

All bidders have put in strong bids, and I am grateful to Members in all parts of the House, who have expressed such strong support for relevant bids. I can now report that, following a detailed evaluation process, the bids from the Metrix consortium have been judged to offer the best technical and prospective value-for-money solutions to the defence training review requirement for both packages 1 and 2. As a result, we are appointing Metrix as preferred bidder for package 1 and provisional preferred bidder for package 2. Metrix has won each package independently and separately, and we now plan to take forward negotiations with the consortium.

On 18 December, the MC3 consortium submitted an unsolicited last minute alternative proposal for package 1. That proposal was considered, but was quickly discounted as failing to meet the requirements of the invitation to negotiate. As an unsolicited proposal it was also outside the rules of the competition.

I must emphasise that identifying the best training solution for defence has been the primary consideration. The evaluation has involved some 200 subject matter experts. The training element was overseen by Professor Molyneux, an independent expert in modern training technology and e-learning.

For package 1 we are confident that we have a broadly affordable solution that will deliver modern and efficient aeronautical engineering, electro-mechanical engineering and communications and information systems training. Currently, that is delivered at nine locations, involving some 3,500 military and civilian staff providing instruction to 6,500 defence trainees at any one time. Over a five-year transition period starting in late 2008, Metrix proposes to rationalise the estate, initially on to two major sites, St. Athan and HMS Sultan. Marine engineering training will remain at HMS Sultan until 2017, when that too will relocate to St. Athan. The St. Athan site will be largely a new-build facility.

A small enclave will, however, be retained at Bordon for vehicle recovery training, and some communications training will continue to be delivered at HMS Collingwood. Overall, that will have a varying impact across nine sites: Arborfield, Bordon, Blandford, HMS Collingwood, Cosford, RAF Cranwell, RAF Digby, HMS Sultan and, of course, St. Athan.

Package 2 is more complex. It aims to provide training for logistics and personnel administration, police and guarding, security, languages, intelligence and photography. Currently, that is delivered at 18 locations across the United Kingdom, involving some 2,900 military and civilian staff, and 4,500 trainees.

The evaluation process identified Metrix as a clear winner for package 2, but we have more work to do to resolve the outstanding issues to address a significant affordability gap and to explore possible synergies with package 1, which should deliver improved value for money across the programme as a whole. Until we have resolved those issues with the bidder we cannot confirm the final approach that the MOD will take, including whether all, or part of, package 2 goes forward. However, it is only right that we inform the losing bidder that it has been unsuccessful.

Starting in late 2008, the current Metrix proposals would again see rationalisation to St. Athan over a five-year period. However, all training currently undertaken at Leconfield, Wethersfield and a number of smaller federated units would remain at those sites, as would the majority of training currently delivered at Chicksands.

Together, these proposals will embrace the very best training methods available today, in an environment designed for military learning. Full advantage will be taken of the latest technology for simulators and distributed learning solutions. The proposals will deliver top-grade single living accommodation for all ranks, with single en-suite rooms for many. New recreational and sports facilities will enhance the quality of life for our trainees, staff and their families.

I take the implications of the change programme for our people very seriously. The impact is likely to be significant for civilian staff required to transfer to the new partner. They will, of course, be protected in full accordance with the TUPE regulations, which cover the transfer of undertakings. However, some redundancies following transfer cannot be ruled out, and should any occur, they will be taken forward sensitively and in full consultation with trade unions and staff.

I do not underestimate how disappointed some hon. Members and their constituents will be where we are seeking to withdraw training establishments. That will be most keenly felt in the west midlands at Cosford, and in North Dorset at Blandford. While not wishing to pre-empt any specific decisions, I am pleased to say that there are no plans to close either site. The current training at each will continue until 2011, and the Department is exploring a number of proposals for the potential future defence use of both Cosford and Blandford. Those proposals will be announced, subject to the normal review and approvals processes, but a military presence is expected to remain at both sites in the future. At Cosford, Metrix proposes building a learning resource centre and developing a national training research and development support centre. In addition, it will work with the Department to examine how the programme might support the establishment of the national manufacturing skills academy.

It has been suggested that the Ministry of Defence has a conflict of interest by virtue of its minority shareholding in QinetiQ, which is part of the Metrix consortium. That was recognised at the outset. Frankly, it is not unusual for QinetiQ to be a member of a consortium bidding for MOD work, or to be a potential beneficiary as a subcontractor. Therefore, we have put in place stringent steps to separate the roles of customer and owner in relation to QinetiQ. Those steps were made plain in the prospectus to investors when QinetiQ was floated on the stock market last year, and a copy was placed at the time in the Library. I am content that the DTR evaluation process did not take improper account of the QinetiQ shareholding.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence and I have written today to all those hon. Members whose constituencies are affected by this announcement, with details of the changes as set out in the winning bidders’ current proposals. As the way forward becomes clearer, I will update the House. I have also made available in the Library a number of key documents, including the invitations to negotiate and Professor Molyneux’s letter validating the evaluation process.

I conclude by emphasising again that the bids from the Metrix consortium offered the best technical and value-for-money solutions to meet the future needs of defence specialist training. As I stated earlier, we now plan to take forward negotiations over the coming months with the Metrix consortium. This remains an extremely complex public-private partnership programme and a number of significant issues remain to be resolved, particularly over the proposals for package 2. I do not plan to make any further announcements until that work has been completed.

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. May I, too, begin by paying tribute on behalf of the Opposition to the servicemen who lost their lives recently? Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of Thomas Curry, Mathew Ford and Alexander Green.

I should also like to thank those of my colleagues who have argued so forcefully for the facilities in their areas. I refer in particular to my hon. Friends the Members for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard), for Ludlow (Mr. Dunne), for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) and for Gosport (Peter Viggers), my right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot), and my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter). All their constituents will be affected by the proposed changes.

On the positive side, it would be good to have high-quality training, and a high-quality training establishment that might act as an aid to recruitment in the future, especially given that demographics will not be on our side. Moreover, at a time when we are celebrating the Union in this country, it is also a positive to see Wales playing a full part in the future of our armed forces. That will send the strong message to those who want to break up the UK that far more unites us than divides us. The statement will also be regarded as a positive opportunity for the academic capabilities of the west and south-west of England, not least among which are the excellent technical skills offered by the academic institutions of Bristol and Bath.

However, the statement is remarkable for its very opaque nature, and for what it does not tell us. Exactly why did the Metrix bid win? What were the key decisive factors that made it the preferred choice? Will the Secretary of State give us an idea of the number of redundancies that the MOD has assessed to be likely as a result of this decision? What type of alternative defence use might be envisaged for Cosford and Blandford, and when might those employed there get further details?

Perhaps most worrying are the financial elements of the deal. Exactly how much will the proposals cost? There was nothing in the statement to tell us that. Has the Chancellor agreed to underwrite the full cost of the projects? At a time of overstretch in the armed forces, a tight defence budget and an even tighter spending round in prospect, will the proposals be financed through a growth in the defence budget—that is, with new money? At a time of inadequate service accommodation and mothballing ships, and when there are capability gaps, any further reduction in front-line budgets would be wholly unacceptable.

Of particular concern are the terms used by the Secretary of State. He says, “We are confident that we have a broadly affordable solution”. It seems to me that a solution is either affordable or not. What does “broadly affordable” mean? When he says that we have to address a “significant affordability gap”, what sort of gap are we talking about? What sort of money does the Secretary of State think that that gap involves? As a former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, those terms must mean something to him. The House, the country and all those affected by the changes have a right to see some numbers put on that vague terminology.

We all want to see quality training, but I am afraid that the statement raises far more questions than it provides answers.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome for the obvious positive advantages that this modernisation of training for our armed forces can deliver. I agree that our ability to do that on the appropriate site, regardless of where in the United Kingdom it is, is a cause for celebration, and a celebration of the Union.

The hon. Gentleman asks for figures. He will excuse me, but considerable negotiations have still to take place with the consortium that has been judged against the evaluation process as providing both the best technical solution and the best value-for-money solution. I said that I had put significant details about that process in the Library, so the House will forgive me if I invite Members to read that information, as it is in the public domain, in the Library.

The through-life cost of the programme is about £16 billion over 25 years, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman will accept is a significant investment in the training of our armed forces. I am certain that investment would not have been possible within the trend of defence expenditure that we inherited, and it is consistent with our ability to increase spending on the armed forces and our ambition to be able to invest more, and to increase our spending on them in the future.

As for affordability, the purpose of making the statement at this time was to announce the outcome of the competition to identify a preferred bidder. In relation to both packages, significant detailed negotiation has still to take place with the preferred bidder, once identified. The competition has come to a close, so it is appropriate that there is a transparent and obvious announcement of who was judged—against the transparent criteria of the competition—the winner. Challenging and complex negotiations have to take place, about which there has to be a degree of commercial confidentiality. In relation to package 1, I am satisfied that we shall be able to conclude those negotiations, because the affordability of the package is broadly within the parameters that we set for ourselves.

There are significant affordability challenges for the second package. However, because the same consortium won each competition independently of the other, there are opportunities for synergy and savings that have to be explored. At the end of that process a decision will have to be made, but a decision may need to be made at some stage about an alternative way of providing training for the second part of the package. I make no bones about that; I am perfectly clear about it.

This is a great, great day for Wales, and it will be remembered for a long time. This is good news not only for my constituents in the Vale of Glamorgan, in particular the work force at St. Athan, but also for the south Wales economy. Most importantly, this is good news for Her Majesty’s armed forces and the training that they need for the 21st century.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to all those who worked hard putting the bid together and supporting it? I am thinking in particular of Mike Hayle of Metrix, parliamentary colleagues on both sides of the House and in the other place, especially my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and the hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mr. Crabb), my colleague Jane Hutt and Mr. David Swallow in the Welsh Assembly, and last but not least, readers of the South Wales Echo, who supported the campaign from day one. [Hon. Members: “This is a speech!”] Finally—

Order. I must remind the House that the purpose of the question session is to put questions to the Minister. Perhaps the Minister could reply briefly.

I have been invited to pay tribute to people—and the first people I want to pay tribute to are those who presently provide the training for our armed forces. That training is working well at the moment. However, they recognise, as we recognise, that we must modernise and adapt it to meet the needs of the future, particularly in relation to tri-service deployment. I am unstinting in my praise of all those, including my hon. Friend, who have so consistently and appropriately lobbied for their constituents’ interests. In this case, the best indicative result at this stage of the process for the delivery of the training needs of the armed forces happens to be in the Metrix bid. To the extent that they have been able to deliver that opportunity of a solution, those involved with that bid are to be congratulated, but no more than others who took part in the process.

I thank the Secretary of State for advance notice of his statement, and I join him in paying tribute to the three members of Her Majesty’s armed forces who lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last few days. Yesterday, I attended a thanksgiving service for 16th Air Assault Brigade, which has recently returned from Afghanistan; the roll of honour ran into double figures.

The decision is clearly good news for south Wales, but bad news for just about every other part of Britain where military training takes place. It is good news for companies that are thriving on the fruits of privatisation, but bad news for the dedicated, publicly employed training professionals who will either lose their jobs or have to leave the public sector. It is good news for the Ministry of Defence, because it can now offload the costly mega-million white elephant that was built in the wrong place for a purpose that is not wanted.

This is yet another example of the Government’s fixation with privatisation—

Order. I am always reluctant to interrupt an hon. Gentleman, but questions must be put. This is not an opportunity for a statement, whether from the Front Bench or not. If the hon. Gentleman can rephrase what he has to say into a question, I can accept that.

In the wider interests of Britain’s armed forces, is this a privatisation too far? Will the Minister say whether any other MOD privatisations are being considered?

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 time, but of delivering what those who charge us with the responsibility of delivering these services want for our forces.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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 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?

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.

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?

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 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.

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?

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.

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?

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.

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?

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 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.

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?

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.

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?

During last week’s Prime Minister’s questions, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister 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.

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?

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.

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?

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.

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?

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.

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—

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.

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?

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.

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?

I agree with my hon. Friend. I am pleased to announce that we will be able to make that 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.

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?

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.

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?

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.

The Secretary of State knows that my only interest is in what is right for the armed forces; I do not have defence interests in my constituency, although I did serve myself. In today’s statement, there is nothing to suggest why Metrix and Wales were chosen. It might be the right decision, but nothing in the statement made public today indicates why it was made. Will the Secretary of State elaborate, in a spirit of openness?

Coming to the House to announce a decision is, in some circumstances, quite restricting. There is a comparatively short period in which to make a statement, and I am trying to stick to that requirement. To supplement the information available to hon. Members, I have placed a significant amount of background information, including the independent verification of technical assessments, in the House of Commons Library. Members can look at that information at their leisure if they wish to satisfy their curiosity or if they wish to be certain that we have been open. A detailed, complex technical assessment of the bids was made against a number of criteria that were set out in the bid process—I have made the information to tender available to the House of Commons, too—and on value for money the Metrix bids were the significant winner, which is why they were chosen. We must get down to details and discuss the terms of the contract to see whether those complex services can be delivered.

The Secretary of State will be aware that the Defence College of Communications and Information Systems is located in Blandford in my constituency. The South West of England Regional Development Agency estimates that the economic footprint of the military presence at Blandford is nearly £300 million a year, so the impact of any move will be significant. The Ministry of Defence has spent nearly £100 million developing the Royal School of Signals at Blandford into a centre of excellence, so I think that the decision is wrong. However, I want assurances about the future of Blandford. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the headquarters of the Royal School of Signals will remain at Blandford, that the signal officer in chief will remain there, and that in future Blandford will be the natural base for all signal regiments when they are located in the United Kingdom?

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s desire to extract those assurances from me, and he will understand my inability to give them to him. I have already said some quite detailed things about Blandford, and I confirm that we are still reviewing the implications for the headquarters of the signal officer in chief and the other units, including research and development facilities at Blandford. I cannot say any more at this stage.

I very much welcome the awarding of the contract to St Athan, which brings a period of uncertainty to an end and will unquestionably benefit the Welsh economy as a whole. Did the Ministry consider keeping the training contract in the public sector, or was the PPP approach the only one to be considered?

I have already indicated in reply to previous questions some of the advantageous characteristics of the PPP, but the most significant advantage was that it allowed us the opportunity to make capital investment that, I candidly admit, we could not otherwise make. After decades of failure to invest in the infrastructure that delivered our training, the scale of investment required was such that it would take decades to secure it if we had used any other method. This way, however, we can secure it in the time scale that I gave in the statement.

I am delighted that all training in Leconfield in my constituency will continue, and I congratulate the staff at Europe’s premier driver training centre on convincing both bidders of the strengths of their operation. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the £40 million investment that is cited in the documents that he released to the House of Commons Library this morning will be invested in Leconfield, and will not be subject to any Treasury cuts in future?

I do not have any experience, either as the Chief Secretary to the Treasury or, indeed, as the Secretary of State for Defence, of the Treasury cuts that people keep talking about. I do have experience, however, of significantly increased real investment in our armed forces, certainly compared with the money spent on them by the Government whom the hon. Gentleman supported. I would be the first to say that we could do more if we invested more, and things that have been highlighted in recent months suggest that there are areas in which we need to invest more. I do not have with me the document to which the hon. Gentleman referred, but if its detail refers to a planned investment of that nature in his constituency, that is what is planned.

There is a standing joke in the armed forces about RAF Cosford, Blandford and the garrison at Aldershot: when the barracks finally get a lick of paint people know that the building is going to be sold. There was a major project at St Athan, as £70 million was spent building a massive aircraft hangar to repair Tornadoes and Harriers, only for the entire project to be scrapped a year later. Will we see some better spending by the MOD?

Independent audit and assessment have confirmed that the MOD is getting progressively better at investing public money so that it can deliver for our armed forces. There is no question about that, but no one, whatever party they represent and certainly no one from a party that has governed the country, can be happy with our ability to do so in the past. We must be honest, and accept that in the past we made some significant mistakes. We do not need to enumerate them, as we all know what they are. We are on a path of improvement, and we will continue along that path.

The Secretary of State generously congratulated the respective bids on the strong cross-party support they received and, in turn, I congratulate the architects of the Welsh bid, which will be well received in south Wales, not least by the Labour candidates for the Welsh Assembly elections next spring. It is a sad day for Shropshire, and a very sad day for my constituency. Will the Secretary of State confirm what he said in the statement about the details of the bid, and confirm that new build will be required to provide the training in St Athan, which, of course, was not the case with the Cosford proposal? I should like to take up his offer to explore a national manufacturing skills academy in Cosford, and I am happy to work with Government Members to progress that proposal in the near future.

At the risk of repeating myself, of course we will do all that we can to make sure that the best use is made of the Cosford site, to the advantage of the local community. I am not entirely sure what the hon. Gentleman’s question was, but he said that one bid did not require new build while another did so. In any assessment of necessary investment, there is an argument that it is a positive aspect of any bid to provide modern, state-of-the-art accommodation for our people, particularly members of the armed forces who are training. The hon. Gentleman’s point therefore cuts both ways.