Defence cuts scupper royal yacht Britannia

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The Independent Online
THE ROYAL YACHT Britannia is likely to become a victim of a review of defence support services being prepared by defence chiefs, as a result of cuts totalling up to pounds 1.5bn over the next three years.

The 5,769-ton royal yacht, built in 1953, has been under review since January. She is almost certain to face the axe as part of the most comprehensive review in years of the armed forces' support services.

The annual cost of the Queen's yacht - more than pounds 12.5m - falls on the taxpayer through the defence budget. The 1993 Defence Estimates confirmed that Britannia's war role as a hospital ship had been abandoned, making her a prime target for scrapping.

The ageing ship is used for banquets and to 'fly the flag' abroad on diplomatic tours, but in 1991 she was used on only 31 days by the Royal Family. She was last in use at the Commonwealth conference in Cyprus, when a number of the crew went down with food poisoning.

Whitehall sources confirmed yesterday that Britannia would be part of the overall review of support services. The Queen's Flight, which costs an estimated pounds 6.7m a year, will also be open to review, but is less likely to be cut.

The Treasury, which had been demanding cuts of pounds 1bn each year, partly retreated in the face of stiff opposition by Malcolm Rifkind, the Secretary of State for Defence. But Tory MPs yesterday warned they might still vote against 'arbitrary cuts' in defence, and expressed alarm at threats of further cuts totalling pounds 5bn over the next ten years.

Many defence back-up roles are likely to be privatised, including RAF transport flights.

More than 100 MoD tasks are to be opened to private bids, ranging from catering to running an air weapons range, flight simulators and support services at the Chemical Defence Establishment, Porton Down.

Defence cuts made by the Canadian government embarrassed John Major yesterday, when he visited the Westland helicopter factory in Yeovil, Somerset, after the Canadians announced their expected decision to cancel a pounds 400m order for 43 helicopters.

Canadian cuts, page 15