Defence specialists hit back at new privatisation

Defence specialists hit back at new privatisation

Plans by the Ministry of Defence to privatise repair work for aircraft and armoured vehicles will jeopardise standards and leave the Ministry of Defence "the prisoner of the private sector," defence specialists have warned.

Over 2,000 MOD civilian staff face the axe as the government pushes ahead with a policy of privatising technical support for the armed forces.

The announcement from Adam Ingram, Minister for the Armed Forces, set out plans to shut down most of the Army Base Repair Organisation (ABRO) with the loss of more than 50% of staff, and shattered any remaining hopes for the future of the Defence Aviation Repair Agency (DARA).

Two thirds of the job losses must be in place by the end of March 2007 with the rest implemented by 2010. Such a tight timescale means that compulsory redundancies cannot be avoided, says Prospect, which represents technical and managerial grades in MOD.

National secretary Steve Jary said: "MOD will lose nearly all of its facilities for maintaining, repairing and refitting aircraft and combat vehicles. Once that in-house knowledge and capacity is gone MOD will be almost totally reliant on the private sector for the upkeep of the UK’s defence equipment.

"MOD is crossing its fingers in the hope that the private sector will always be able to fill the gap. There is no basis for this belief, which amounts to a new Defence Industrial Strategy that has not been published let alone discussed. It will make MOD the prisoner of the private sector."

Adam Ingram confirmed today that MOD plans to:

Break up and sell off DARA. The St Athan site will close by March 2007 with the loss of 725 jobs. Another 225 jobs will go at DARA sites at Almondbank near Perth, and Fleetlands near Portsmouth, specialising in helicopter refit and repair.

Cut over 50% of ABRO staff. ABRO’s total staff of 2,354 will be cut by 1,226. Its armoured vehicle facilities in Donnington, Shopshire will close by March 2007 with the loss of 578 jobs, plus a further 50 redundancies by March 2010. All refits and repair of the armoured fleet will move to Bovington, Dorset with the loss of 55 jobs by 2007 and another 52 by 2010. ABRO’S land facilities at Warminster, Wiltshire and Colchester, Essex will also close with 161 redundancies by 2007 followed by a further 120 by 2010. An additional 210 redundancies will follow across other ABRO sites including its headquarters at Andover, Hampshire by March 2010.

Jary warned that stripping MOD of the expertise needed to undertake long-term planned maintenance would have a knock-on effect on the government’s ability to act as an intelligent customer for its massive procurement programme.

"Most of the staff managing contracts in the defence logistics and procurement agencies gained their expertise through training at DARA. The agency also provides a role in training RAF personnel so you have to question where MOD’s expertise for carrying out this work will be developed," he said.

ABRO is a MOD trading fund that provides depth repair of the Army’s armoured fighting vehicles and other defence equipment. ABRO has eight workshops based in Bicester, Bovington, Catterick, Colchester, Donnington, Sennybridge, Stirling and Warminster.

DARA was set up in 1999 to cut the cost of maintaining and repairing the UK’s military aircraft. DARA operates at four sites: St Athan in South Wales, Sealand in North Wales, Almondbank near Perth, Scotland and Fleetlands near Portsmouth. It employs 3,800 staff – all highly skilled aviation engineers – with more than half based at DARA headquarters in St Athan.