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18 Jan 06. The BBC reported that MPs have strongly criticised the Ministry of Defence (MoD) over the planned closure of a jet repair centre. The defence select committee said moving work from the Defence Aviation Repair Agency (Dara) after a £100m investment was “perverse and wasteful”.

The RAF St Athan centre in the Vale of Glamorgan, south Wales, is due to close next year with 500 job losses. But Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram was “mystified” by the criticism, and said the changes would save millions. The report calls for the Wales Audit Office to investigate and said the UK government should ensure Dara’s viability with alternative commercial investment “a matter of urgency”.

This story has not been a happy one

The UK government is transferring repair work on fast jets from South Wales to RAF bases in England despite the construction of St Athan’s so-called super hangar. Ministers say streamlining is needed to modernise support for the armed forces. But the defence committee said it was “incomprehensible” that the MoD went ahead with the aerospace project in the middle of a logistics review.

The logistics review concluded that the RAF should service its jets on base rather than at a single servicing centre. The result is that the future of Dara is unclear beyond 2007 as repair work on Tornado GR4 bombers is to be transferred to RAF Marham in Norfolk, while Harrier jump jets will be serviced at RAF Cottesmore.

‘Campaign vindicated’

The committee said there should now be a full investigation into whether the investment was properly spent at St Athan, part of a scheme known as Project Red Dragon to create a world-class aviation centre.

The report said it was doubtful RAF bases would match Dara’s facilities

The report described the situation as “a clear example of a lack of joined-up government within Whitehall and between MoD and National Assembly for Wales and its agencies.”

Committee chairman James Arbuthnot said: “This story has not been a happy one.

“The committee felt that the combination of decisions – to pour taxpayers’ money into an outstanding new facility in St Athan at the very same time as the MoD was conducting a review which would take the work away from that facility, so that the MoD then had to spend millions more on re-providing those facilities elsewhere, was quite extraordinary.”

Vale of Glamorgan MP John Smith, a member of the committee, said the report “vindicated” the campaign to keep aviation repair contracts at Dara. The projected savings from these changes are £70m over the next four years and £40m annually thereafter

Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram

He said: “I call upon the government to implement the recommendations of the committee in full and without delay, before the front line capability of the Royal Air Force is placed at risk.”

Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram said he was “perplexed” by the committee’s findings as the Red Dragon centre was now a “highly marketable” facility for the MoD.

Mr Ingram said all the Government’s investment in the project was expected to have been recovered by the time the fast jet work finished in 2007.

He also defended the new servicing arrangements, and said they were already producing significant savings while improving aircraft availability.

“For Harrier alone it means on average an extra 11 aircraft are available to the front line at any one time,” he said.

“The projected savings from these changes are £70m over the next four years and £40m annually thereafter.

“To conclude, as the committee does, that this is not desirable mystifies me.”

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