Mark Hunter MP takes fight for Woodford to Parliament

May 21, 2009 4:21 PM
BAE

Mark inside the cockpit of a Nimrod at the Woodford plant

Mark Hunter MP for Cheadle constituency yesterday secured a special debate in the House of Commons to quiz the Defence Minister about the future of the Nimrod project at the BAE site in Woodford and press the case for the outstanding contract to be awarded to Woodford.

The Woodford site manufactures Nimrod Aircraft for the RAF and is set to close in 2012 unless the Ministry of Defence (MOD) commission more aircrafts for the Helix programme (a new state of the art electronic surveillance mission system). The programme requires a further three aircraft but the MOD are currently considering buying 40 year old planes from American owned Boeing. If the decision is made to buy American rather than British, the 1,000 skilled engineers, technicians and other employees who work at the site will lose their jobs more quickly.

During the debate, called by the Cheadle MP, Mr Hunter set out the consequences of such a decision to the Minister. Mr Hunter pointed out the importance of saving jobs and technical expertise, the different lifespan of the aircraft (25 years for Nimrod and only 12 for the Boeing option), and need for the future impact on the UK defence industry to be considered when comparing the costs of the UK and US options.

Mr Hunter also expressed national security concerns about the decision not to buy British. He asked the Minster whether surveillance gathered by the aircraft would come into the UK via the US military instead of directly into GCHQ, and questioned the wisdom of handing over a vital part of UK defence capabilities to the US.

Commenting after the debate Mr Hunter said: "I was very pleased to secure this important debate today - it allowed me to speak on behalf of the 1,000 employees at Woodford (many of them constituents) whose jobs are at stake. The Minister has a clear choice between buying British and buying American - during the debate today I argued that it was not only cost effective to commission the British built Nimrod aircraft but that it was also sensible from a national security standpoint.

"The British Nimrod aircraft have many advantages over the 40 year old American option. The RAF themselves are concerned about losing the "world-class, gold standard, war-winning capability in the name of economy"ยน. The UK option will be less expensive in the long-run and in the current economic climate we simply cannot afford to be in the business of exporting jobs particularly given the UK's excellent reputation in the aviation defence sector.

"As a regular visitor to the Woodford site myself, I know only too well the tremendous work carried out there. It would be a real kick in the teeth to this dedicated work force should the Government decide to go for the US option."

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