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First Minister has written to UK Defence Secretary regarding the RAF bases in Moray.

27 October 2010

Issued by the Scottish Government.

First Minister Alex Salmond has written to Defence Secretary Liam Fox setting out the strongly held concerns regarding the RAF bases in Moray, and the wider impact of the UK Government's Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) on Scotland's defence footprint.

It follows yesterday's 'constructive' talks with the Moray task force in Edinburgh. The First Minister has also requested an urgent meeting with Mr Fox to seek clarity for the people of Moray following the publication of the SDSR. The Review announced the cancellation of the Nimrod contract, causing the closure of Kinloss as an RAF base, and has created uncertainty over RAF Lossiemouth.

In his letter the First Minister states:

"I have strong concerns about how this announcement has been handled by the UK Government. Moray has given a great deal of support over the years to the Armed Forces and, although we have supplied the MOD with substantial data on the socio-economic implications, there is a marked absence of transitional support for this community. We would expect the UK Government to do no less for its citizens than other nations do for theirs.

"There is evidence that the consequences of the potential RAF withdrawal are already being felt within the local economy. Our initial analysis suggests that withdrawal of the base will take at least £0.5 million from the Moray economy for every week that the base remains inactive. The knock-on costs to the taxpayer of benefits payments and the indirect impacts on housing, health, education and mental health, will also need to be considered. These economic considerations should be factored into any decisions by the UK Government on both the future of RAF Kinloss and RAF Lossiemouth.

"Given the devastation of the decisions regarding RAF Kinloss, I firmly believe that the Tornados should be based at RAF Lossiemouth. The sense of loss in Moray is dramatic and it is worth noting that local community and business leaders in Moray powerfully describe the possibility of losing both RAF bases as "unthinkable". A decision to base the Tornados at RAF Lossiemouth would give this community hope and would help to limit the social and economic damage inflicted by changes at RAF Kinloss.

"I fully appreciate that tough decisions must be made in times of financial constraints. However these sorts of decisions must also be fair, balanced and responsive to wider long-term social and economic impacts, particularly where these cannot be absorbed easily within local communities. I am keen to work constructively with the UK Government and with the team in Moray to consider the true consequences of the recent announcement and take direct steps to avoid making a bad situation worse. "

TEXT OF LETTER

Thank you for your letter of 19th October summarising the contents of the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), which has serious implications for Scotland.

I welcome confirmation that the £5 billion Carrier Project will continue, protecting more than 5,500 jobs both directly and indirectly on and around the Clyde, contributing heavily to the UK economy. There are aspects of the naval decisions on which we will seek clarification in due course.

The situation facing the bases in Moray, however, is a national issue of national importance to Scotland and that is how I intend to treat it. I have grave concerns about the threat to the people and community of Moray as a result of the UK Government's decision on RAF Kinloss and uncertainty over the future of RAF Lossiemouth. Moray and the economy of the surrounding area are heavily reliant on the bases - indeed, Moray is the most RAF dependent community in the UK and the loss of both RAF bases would be catastrophic.

I welcome the Prime Minister's commitment in the House of Commons to engage with communities before final decisions are taken on their future and ask that you let me know how you envisage this engagement happening. I met today with the Emergency Taskforce convened in Moray and heard from them first hand the consequences which are already becoming a reality on the ground - contracts are being cancelled, jobs are put at risk and there is considerable uncertainty among businesses. The Task Force was convened last week and comprises representatives of the local council, Highlands & Islands Enterprise, business leaders and the voluntary sector. It has the full support of the Scottish Government. The Task Force is investigating the impact of the SDSR announcements on Moray and surrounding areas as a matter of urgency. What was clear from our meeting this afternoon was that the people of Moray are determined to fight to build on the strengths of the region.

Approximately 5,700 jobs depend directly on RAF Kinloss and Lossiemouth with the bases generating an estimated £150m a year for the local economy. The loss of those jobs and that income would devastate communities which have provided decades of support for the personnel at the bases.

You should expect to receive from the Moray Taskforce a strong case for the future of RAF Lossiemouth as home to the UK's tornados in the very near future. The community, businesses and the public sector in the area are united in making the strongest representations possible to you in advance of the decision about the future of the base. They will also make the case for responsible withdrawal from RAF Kinloss.

There are, however a number of points which I wish to raise with you directly as a follow up to our meeting last month.

At this stage, I would note that the recent announcement failed to address a number of important matters in relation to the future of the bases, particularly relating to timescales and support for personnel. For the people of Moray who have arguably been hit harder than any single community in the UK, this lack of clarity only serves to heighten anxiety and distress felt at a local level. With that in mind, I would like to make initial points on the consequences of the decision and seek immediate clarification on some crucial issues.

RAF Kinloss

I have to express my profound dismay regarding the decision to close RAF Kinloss as an RAF base. Kinloss celebrated its 70th anniversary as a home to the Armed Forces in July last year and the reaction in Moray demonstrates that the announcement has dealt a huge emotional blow to the community. If the UK Government intends to take this decision, it must accept that there are far-reaching implications for the people of Moray and for Scotland, and to be prepared to step up and deal with the consequences as a matter of urgency. In relation to RAF Kinloss, I would refer to your own words, as I did at our meeting:

'Deletion of the Nimrod MR4 will limit our ability to deploy maritime forces rapidly into high-threat areas, increase the risk to the Deterrent, compromise maritime CT, remove long range search and rescue, and delete one element of our Falklands reinforcement plan.'

If this is the case, and given the high costs already incurred on the Nimrod contract, I fail to see how it makes sense on either defence or economic grounds to cancel the contract, for which I believe some construction is still ongoing.

Handling the immediate impact

I have strong concerns about how this announcement has been handled by the UK Government. Moray has given a great deal of support over the years to the Armed Forces and, although we have supplied the MOD with substantial data on the socio-economic implications, there is a marked absence of transitional support for this community. We would expect the UK Government to do no less for its citizens than other nations do for theirs. For example, the US offers a far more constructive approach in similar situations, where it has deployed the Office of Economic Adjustment. I would be grateful for an indication of what practical assistance and package of support the UK Government intends to provide to handle the aftermath of this announcement. I advocate a substantial increase to the UK Rapid Response Fund which in turn would increase Scotland's share of that pot to assist those who will be facing redundancy situations. I would also like to know what systems and support will be in place for offering redundancy support (e.g. outplacement agencies for military and civilian personnel).

There is evidence that the consequences of the potential RAF withdrawal are already being felt within the local economy. Our initial analysis suggests that withdrawal of the base will take at least £0.5million from the Moray economy for every week that the base remains inactive. The knock-on costs to the taxpayer of benefits payments and the indirect impacts on housing, health, education and mental health, will also need to be considered. These economic considerations should be factored into any decisions by the UK Government on both the future of RAF Kinloss and RAF Lossiemouth.

As you know, submissions were made to the UK Government setting out possible consequences for the local area. However it is not clear to what extent these consequences have been analysed or accepted by the UK Government, or if any supplementary consequences have been identified. In order to gauge the scale of the problem, I request copies of all assessments made by the UK Government of the impact of the possible base closures on the community of Moray, referring to all potential consequences for the area, such as the social, economic and equality impacts.

Future of RAF Lossiemouth

Given the devastation of the decisions regarding RAF Kinloss, I firmly believe that the Tornados should be based at RAF Lossiemouth. The sense of loss in Moray is dramatic and it is worth noting that local community and business leaders in Moray powerfully describe the possibility of losing both RAF bases as "unthinkable". A decision to base the Tornados at RAF Lossiemouth would give this community hope and would help to limit the social and economic damage inflicted by changes at RAF Kinloss.

We are working with the Moray Task Force to examine the economic case and we intend to present our case in the strongest possible terms in the coming weeks. At this stage, I would like to seek your view on the widespread concern that the decision on the future of the bases has already been taken. It has been reported that staff at RAF Lossiemouth have been briefed that the base will close and they will be transferred elsewhere. This stands in marked contrast to the assurances given to me in your letter and undermines the commitment made to the House of Commons by the Prime Minister that no decisions would be taken without community engagement. I would be grateful for urgent clarification.

Wider impact on Scotland's defence footprint

Although it is clear that Moray will bear the brunt of the impact of the SDSR, there are implications for the rest of Scotland. My officials will write separately to the MOD on specific points of the SDSR where further clarification is required as a matter of urgency if we are to avoid undermining efforts to grow the economy in Scotland. Aside from the immediate issues facing Moray, I am particularly concerned about decisions still to be made in relation to Craigiehall and Fort George which, combined with potential losses in Moray, mean that we run the risk of leaving only 8,000 service personnel in Scotland. I believe that this is of constitutional significance and I will return to this point once the implications of the SDSR have been analysed in detail.

On a specific point, I was surprised to note that defence has been explicitly excluded from HM Treasury's "Overview of the impact of the Spending Review 2010 on equalities'. I do not agree that it is not meaningful to consider the equality impact of MOD resource allocations and I do not accept the argument set out in the Treasury paper that defence is exempt from equalities considerations because it is of equal benefit to everyone in society. We understand that there are particular equality issues which will need to be taken into consideration in Moray in particular - for example, the decision to close RAF Kinloss will have an impact on service families with disabilities.

Next steps

This letter serves as an initial response to the announcement and the Scottish Government is working closely with the community in Moray to identify further key questions and focus on what steps are needed to mitigate the impact. We cannot do that without accurate information, resources and practical assistance from the UK Government and I would welcome cooperation with this task in the weeks and months ahead from you, the Secretary of State for Scotland and other responsible UK Ministers.

I fully appreciate that tough decisions must be made in times of financial constraints. However these sorts of decisions must also be fair, balanced and responsive to wider long-term social and economic impacts, particularly where these cannot be absorbed easily within local communities. I am keen to work constructively with the UK Government and with the team in Moray to consider the true consequences of the recent announcement and take direct steps to avoid making a bad situation worse. I am grateful for your offer to meet me and under the circumstances, I believe it is essential that this takes place as swiftly as possible. My Private Office is in touch to arrange the earliest possible date.

I am copying this letter to the Prime Minister, the Chancellor, the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Convener of Moray Council and Chair of Moray Task Force, and the leaders of the main political parties in the Scottish Parliament.
 


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