Trident contract award branded 'unfair' by MPs: Government urged to reconsider choice of Devonport

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The Independent Online
MPs CALLED on the Government yesterday to reconsider what they branded its 'unfair' decision to award the pounds 5bn Trident nuclear submarine refit contract to a single dockyard.

The Commons Defence Select Committee dismissed as 'unsafe' the Government's central claim of significant savings because the bid by Devonport dockyard in Plymouth was pounds 64m cheaper than that submitted by Rosyth, the Scottish yard.

The margin of error and the huge cost of the refitting programme made such an assertion pointless, the committee said in a highly critical report.

The MPs said that in neither last month's announcement by Malcolm Rifkind, Secretary of State for Defence, nor in the accompanying consultation document, was there any evidence other than cost to support the decision to concentrate the work at the Devonport yard.

Even on that footing, the Ministry of Defence 'has not demonstrated that the cost difference in favour of Devonport should have been regarded as decisive or conclusive'. The Rosyth dockyard in Fife has been left with surface warship refitting following a bitter industrial battle with competing bids from both yards.

The committee, chaired by Sir Nicholas Bonsor, Tory MP for Upminster, was strongly critical of this aspect, saying the bidding procedure was not strictly a competition at all.

The MoD had provided no detailed specification of what standard of facilities would be acceptable, the MPs said, and the process was 'flawed and potentially unfair'.

The 9,000 dockyard workers waiting for an end to the uncertainty were denied a decision for nearly two years as the Government missed deadlines.

The committee also called on Mr Rifkind to 'look again' at his calculations of job losses, said to be 350 at Rosyth and 450 at Devonport by the end of the century. Rosyth managers had put the figure at 1,000.

'We can understand such scepticism,' the MPs said, adding that the MoD had not verified its estimate with either dockyard. 'The MoD should look again at their calculations and set out in detail the basis on which they were undertaken.'

The MPs concluded: 'We urge the Ministry of Defence to reconsider its proposal that there should only be one yard capable of refitting nuclear submarines.'

Urging publication of a full evaluation of the range of non- cost factors considered, they said: 'We cannot confirm, in the light of the evidence available to us, that the decision reached on the future pattern of naval refitting was a prudent one.'

The Ministry of Defence said it would be impractical to keep two nuclear refitting facilities as the pounds 300m cost over the next five years would 'far outweigh' any savings from competition.

Gordon Brown, the shadow Chancellor, whose Dunfermline East constituency covers Rosyth, said the 'damning' report showed the Government's approach was 'prejudiced, misleading and wrong'.

Menzies Campbell, Liberal Democrat MP for Fife North East, and a committee member, called for a legally binding contract for the promised surface work. 'Otherwise Rosyth dockyard could be left high and dry.'