In the last parliament I said on a number of occasions that the Tories were very army centric and did not understand the navy and its role in 21st century defence. What the Coalition is now doing defies belief. Whatever excuses there may be for new Devon and Cornish MPs not being on the ball, there is no excuse for Gary Streeter MP for South West Devon who attended some of the numerous meetings and briefings locally and nationally which took place through the Devonport Strategy Group which I set up in late 2005.
That lobbying had a successful outcome. In July 2007 The Naval Base Review concluded that all three naval bases were required and that Devonport would become the Amphibious Centre of Excellence. In March 2010, the Labour Government concluded a 15-year multi-billion pound Terms of Business Agreement (ToBA) with Babcock Marine which guaranteed Babcock’s role as lead industrial partner for submarine support, maintenance and decommissioning, and preferred supplier for engineering support and other services for surface warships and submarines. This is the deep maintenance that brings the jobs. Although the agreement did not guarantee a specific level of work it did deliver savings and benefits to MOD of £700 million over the period.
Devonport Dockyard has a sunken asset of £1billion in the dock, which is available to service the nuclear submarines. That work cannot be done elsewhere. But just like cars, modern submarines need less servicing. The troughs in the workload that always existed between refits are now more extended – and governments of all political colours have always had to pay heed to ensuring that there is enough work on the deep maintenance of the surface ships to keep the skilled workforce busy during those periods. Senior figures in the company told me at the time that the ToBA was signed that the decision had felt like ‘winning the gold’ medal.
There was no great celebration at the time by the city – it simply did not suit the Tories electorally in Plymouth, who banged on about ‘uncertainty killing the city’ for the best part of the previous two years. They could not bring themselves to welcome the decision when it was made, let alone hang out the flags. Well Mrs Pengelly wake up and smell the coffee. It is not uncertainty that is killing the city now – it is your Tory government thrashing about like a bull in the china shop. You and they are smashing through all the hard work that was put in to secure the future of Devonport and its contribution to the defence of our country!
The decision for the immediate decommissioning of the four Type 22 frigates, which were to provide the workload for the troughs over the next two years is catastrophic for the skills base. The Devonport workers will be needed more than ever to maintain the Vanguards in years to come as their lives are now to be extended. But more than that, this decision takes 1,000 naval personnel and their families out of Plymouth’s economy.
Albion or Bulwark is to be mothballed. Along with that go 300 plus more personnel and families. And what does that reduced state of readiness say about the development of Plymouth as the Amphibious Centre of Excellence? The project, which Alison Seabeck and I campaigned relentlessly and successfully for, to collocate the landing craft and the marines at Bull Point had started development earlier this year. We went to see it. Is it still on track? Will main gate approval and the award of the contract happen early next year as planned?
It is unthinkable that Devonport-based Ocean rather than Illustrious should be mothballed as well. Ocean is due to have a major £100 million refit next year – again work that must be there to fill the trough. But apart from this she is the one who carries the helicopters whereas Illustrious will not have planes – or the trained pilots to fly them. But logic does not seem to apply and we await confirmation from the follow up to the question that Alison Seabeck MP asked about this on the statement. (Strategic Defence and Security Review [19 October 2010] The knock-on effect on naval base personnel from the vessels decommissioned and mothballed will be in the region of a further 300.
The 1,600 job losses outlined above will be multiplied by two if the skills base is put at risk. Tuesday’s statement on the Strategic Defence Review puts a massive question mark over the Tory commitment to the future deterrent and the pivotal role of the Royal Navy, littoral manoeuvre and Devonport’s future role as the centre of amphibious excellence to meet the threats before us this century.
The future of Devonport, The Royal Navy and the defence of the country appear to have been dealt a body blow this week. As well as seeing people marching to Downing Street in support of Devonport we need to see the evidence that the hard detailed work to back up the photo opportunities is being done to counter the consequences of the catastrophic changes announced this week.
The Type 23’s must remain in Devonport for both baseporting and deep maintenance and we need regular reports on what is happening to the Type 26’s. The Naval Base and Babcock and its work force need the city’s leading Tories to be making a much louder and more effective noise in response to the Review. At the moment they are much too complacent in their public statements. Streeter (Strategic Defence and Security Review [19 October 2010], Colvile Strategic Defence and Security Review [19 October 2010].
They need to work cross-party and with the Trade Unions meeting face-to-face with ministers and not just developing cosy, behind closed doors meetings with their political friends. The Liberal Democrats with their wishy washy incoherent views on the deterrent are incapable of making the Conservatives show that they understand what needs to be done and are acting upon it.
- Devonport, Royal Navy and the defence of the country dealt a body blow in Strategic Defence Review - October 22, 2010
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