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Armed Forces: Aircraft

Volume 715: debated on Monday 30 November 2009

Statement

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Quentin Davies) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am announcing today that the Ministry of Defence is beginning formal consultation with the trade unions on a proposed programme of reductions at the Defence Support Group’s (DSG) Large Aircraft Business Unit (LABU) at St Athan, in South Wales designed to achieve closure of the facility by June 2013 at the latest.

The LABU provides maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services to the RAF’s VC-10 air refuelling and tanker aircraft under contract from BAE Systems. MRO work at the LABU will decline significantly after December 2010 when contract activity will reduce by 70 per cent as the last major VC-10 maintenance activity is completed. Minor maintenance of the VC-10 will continue through to closure of the facility.

Despite the best efforts of MoD and DSG management there is insufficient new work to sustain current staff numbers and maintain the viability of the business over the medium to long term. MoD believes it is therefore critical to DSG’s continued effectiveness and efficiency as a trading fund to reduce the LABU’s capacity and capability in a phased manner commensurate with the unit’s declining workload. This is expected to involve an initial reduction of up to 200 personnel by December 2010 with the balance of around 139 staff leaving no later than June 2013. We have explored the possibilities for finding alternative uses for the capacity at St Athan but none has materialised, and though we continue to remain open to viable alternative suggestions I believe it would be irresponsible, and not in the interests of the workforce, to delay decisions any further.

In parallel with its consultation with the trade unions, MoD will continue to work with other government departments and agencies to explore future job opportunities for DSG employees who would be affected by the drawdown and closure of the facility. The option of retraining and transferring LABU personnel to other DSG sites would also be maximised where this meets business needs and individuals’ preferences. DSG will also work closely with external training providers and agencies such as Careers Wales, Job Centre Plus and other advisory organisations to explore alternative training and job opportunities for any employees wanting to retrain for an alternative career.

In conclusion, I pay tribute to the outstanding service that DSG St Athan personnel, both past and present, have provided and the pivotal role they have played in supporting the UK Armed Forces with the vital equipment needed on critical operations both at home and overseas.