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I am committed to providing sustained support for science and technology across all aspects of defence. The Ministry of Defence has and will continue to invest in the aerospace sector, developing capability and undertaking research into new ideas. As part of that ongoing investment, I am pleased to announce today that we have placed a £40 million four-year research contract with BAE Systems to explore critical technologies and key systems integration for the UK’s next generation of highly capable air systems. The future combat air system research contract is expected to include significant benefits for the wider UK supply base.
I thank the Minister for that answer and, in particular, for the good news about BAE Systems. However, many companies based in Pendle and Lancashire are small and medium-sized enterprises. Will the Minister say a little more about what he is doing specifically to support SMEs in the aerospace sector?
We have plans to do more to help SMEs and I had hoped to announce them in the White Paper that I was due to publish this month, but the pressure of Christmas business has delayed that until the new year. I can assure my hon. Friend that there will be good news in that for the SME sector and I also reiterate what I said in my original answer: the future combat air system contract will bring real benefits to small and medium-sized enterprises in the UK, including, I am sure, in my hon. Friend’s constituency.
Does the Minister acknowledge that the British aerospace industry and sector are vital to British manufacturing and that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is at this moment conducting a rationalisation of procurement methods? Will he have an intelligent conversation with BIS about how procurement can be longer reaching and longer term in the defence industry?