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DARA (Almondbank)

Volume 470: debated on Wednesday 23 January 2008

4. What discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on preserving the skills base at the Defence Aviation Repair Agency, Almondbank. (179990)

If I may say so, I find my discussions with Ministers in the Ministry of Defence among the most fruitful discussions that I have across Government. On a more serious note, any decision about the long-term future of the Defence Aviation Repair Agency will be based on what offers best value for defence and the best chance of longevity of employment for the work force. Accordingly, preserving the skills base at both Almondbank and Fleetlands is at the forefront of Ministers’ minds in this process.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the future ownership of Almondbank has been uncertain for some time. I seek an assurance that he will take into account all appropriate considerations about the skills of Almondbank’s work force during the decision-making process, with a view to preserving those vital skills for the Scottish economy.

I do not think I can make it any clearer to the House that the shared priority focus of this decision is ensuring that the skill base is protected and preserved, and that the longevity of employment is at the heart of the decision. For very good reasons, which have been explained to my hon. Friend, the trade unions and others who are interested, it is the Ministry of Defence’s view that the prospect of investment and additional work coming in to both Almondbank and Fleetlands is in the interests of work force longevity and the retention of the skills base. I am happy to tell him that Baroness Taylor of Bolton, the Minister with responsibility for this area, will be visiting DARA on Friday, and I am sure he will be able to have further discussions with her then.

Although Almondbank is in the constituency of the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Gordon Banks), most of the people who work there are my constituents. They have great concern about the proposed privatisations. Will the Secretary of State take full account of the joint trade unions’ proposals to keep DARA Almondbank within the public sector and reject a further privatisation, this time of this first-class facility?

I will not accede to the hon. Gentleman’s request to make a decision on that basis. I shall make the decision on the basis of what best serves defence. That is my first priority and I am sure that it is his, particularly when young men and women from this country are risking their lives in operational theatres. That is my priority as far as public spending is concerned, and I am sure that it is his. Secondly, I shall ensure that we do our best to retain the very skilled work force at the facility, and give them an opportunity beyond what the prospective work programme offers them at the moment. I will take into account all suggestions that they make, but I will make the decision based on those two criteria. I would be happy to join the hon. Gentleman in discussions about this if he wants to have them, but he will not change my mind about those priorities.