Privatising plan 'could hit safety at Faslane'

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The Independent Online

A scheme to bring in private contractors to maintain nuclear submarines at the Faslane nuclear base near the Clyde could threaten up to 3,000 jobs and compromise safety, the Government was warned yesterday.

A scheme to bring in private contractors to maintain nuclear submarines at the Faslane nuclear base near the Clyde could threaten up to 3,000 jobs and compromise safety, the Government was warned yesterday.

Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for Defence, said he had entered talks with a commercial company, Babcock Rosyth Defence, over the contract for repairs and routine work on the vessels. A Ministry of Defence spokesman said the talks were the result of overcapacity in warship repair and maintenance across the ministry's naval bases. Discussions were being held as part of an exercise to rationalise provision at Faslane as well as at naval bases and dockyards in Portsmouth, Devonport and Rosyth. "There is not enough work to go around. We have fewer ships and they don't require as much overhauling," the ministry spokesman said.

It was too early to say whether any jobs would be at risk, but it was "vital" that the workforce was kept involved with developments, he said.

In a BBC radio interview yesterday, Mr Hoon revealed that the Government could save up to £150m through changes stemming from the discussions.

"We already have high-level security work conducted by private companies and we have the very highest security and safety standards. These kinds of arrangements already exist in the shipyards and it is something we are looking to extend," he said. "There is significant overcapacity in warship repair and maintenance across the UK. These discussions are designed to address the question of overcapacity right across the dockyards. It is necessary to address the general problem caused by much more efficient ways of working these days with fewer ships requiring to be repaired and refitted."

Mr Hoon said he would look at the issue of privatisation and added that he had already had some very useful talks with trade unions.

The trade unions, which met him in June to discuss the issue, had accepted there was a problem and had agreed to find constructive ways of dealing with it, he said. Iain Duncan Smith, the shadow Defence Secretary, said he was "deeply concerned" about the securityimplications of the possible privatisation of the Trident base at Faslane. He said the talks were motivated by a Treasury-leddesire for cuts.

"This decision may seriously affect our national security and our armed forces' technical security. Yet again, this Labour Government is putting cutting costs before the security of our armed forces," he said.

Paul Keetch, the Liberal Democrat defence spokesman, accused Labour of fulfilling the privatisation legacy of the Conservatives.

"Many people have grave worries about national security and jobs as a result of this move. There is no more sensitive work than the maintenance of our international nuclear deterrent. Parliament should be allowed to take a view on this matter before any decision is made," he said.

Alan Grey, union convener for the Institute of Professionals, Managers and Specialists, said 3,000 jobs could be at risk.

"This Government came in saying they were going to be pragmatic, not dogmatic, and they would not follow the previous administration's line of 'private good, public bad'. In practice, they appear to have been dogmatic, not pragmatic, and they have come with the belief that the public sector is a bad thing," he said.

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