Welsh firm snubbed as Army buys its boots from Brazil

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The Independent Online

The Ministry of Defence last night was accused of "giving the boot" to workers in south Wales by allowing a contract for the Army standard combat boot to go to Brazil. Workers at a footwear factory in Blaina, Gwent, blamed the MoD for its threatened closure with the loss of all 65 jobs.

The footwear union said MoD demands for the lowest prices had forced the company, UK Safety, to place a subcontract with a Brazilian firm for the main component of the boot. "We are angry that again a Government department seems to be condoning the export of yet more UK manufacturing jobs," said Phil Markham, district officer of the union.

A day before the decision was revealed, the MoD confirmed that a German firm has won a £6.5m contract to supply waterproof combat kit for British troops. An MoD spokesman said: "We are spending taxpayers' money. We have a duty to seek value for money. We have a contract with UK Safety in Bristol. Any change to their subcontract is a matter for them."

And the Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon is planning to announce a £200m refurbishment of the MoD's headquarters in Whitehall. Senior ministers and top civil servants are to move out for an estimated four years.

The move will mean that MoD's in-house spies, the Defence Intelligence Service, will have to share their space with ministers or move out to other outlying offices.

The MOD defended the expenditure of £50m a year, including running costs, to turn its headquarters into modern open-plan offices, in spite of reports that front-line forces are complaining about cuts, faulty rifles and radios.

"The main building is a very inefficient 1950s construction, with single occupancy offices and corridors," said the spokesman. "It will increase the efficiency of the headquarters to support the front line."

The MoD headquarters will be able to house 500 more staff when the work is completed but the Tories attacked the expenditure plans. "It is very strange when the Armed Forces are facing cuts of 3 per cent a year that this sort of money is being spent on ministerial offices," said a Tory spokesman.

A private firm will have 30-year maintenance contract on the defence headquarters.