Defence Spending Reduction

First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 11:59 am on 28th October 2010.

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Photo of Dave Thompson Dave Thompson Scottish National Party 11:59 am, 28th October 2010

To ask the First Minister what steps the Scottish Government is taking to counteract the effects of the reduction in defence spending on the economy. (S3F-2641)

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

The threat to the Moray economy is in my view an issue of national importance. The Scottish Government is actively working with the Moray task force to create and secure a sustainable future for the Moray economy. I will continue to press the Secretary of State for Defence to face up to the consequences of the decisions that have been made and to deliver solutions for the people of Moray. I hope and believe that we will continue to have the all-party unity that accompanied the strategic defence review in arguing for the future of Lossiemouth as an air base. It is an immediate and urgent priority that we present that case and that the task force gains all-party support, since we understand that the decision on Lossie might be taken in the next few weeks.

Photo of Dave Thompson Dave Thompson Scottish National Party

The First Minister is obviously aware of the devastating effect of the loss of defence jobs in Moray, where there have been Royal Air Force bases in Kinloss and my home town of Lossiemouth for more than 65 years. The local MSP, Richard Lochhead, has been working hard on the issue. Highlands and Islands Enterprise has produced a report on the economic impact, which shows that it could cost £158 million in wages. Of course, Moray whisky contributes hundreds of millions to the Exchequer every year. I am glad to hear of the steps that are being taken. Does the First Minister intend to attend the rally that is to be held in Lossiemouth on 7 November?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

Yes, I do. I know that an invitation has been offered to the other party leaders in Scotland or their representatives and I hope and believe that the party unity on the issue will be demonstrated on the platform at that important rally.

I held a meeting earlier this week with the Moray task force. It is difficult to point to an advantage in what is a hugely challenging situation, but one advantage that the people of Moray have is that, thanks to Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the local council, a huge examination has been carried out of the economic impact of the air force bases on the Moray economy. That both concentrates our minds as we fight for Lossiemouth and gives incredibly detailed information on the extent of the economic challenge that is faced. I said that it might seem like small consolation, but in terms of taking the action that is required, it indicates the scale of the economic challenge and therefore the urgency of response that is needed from all relevant and responsible parties.

Photo of David Stewart David Stewart Labour

Will the First Minister look at three particular issues to help the Moray economy: first, the granting of assisted area status; secondly, whether there could be any further civil service or agency job relocations; and finally, whether he could approach Europe? As the First Minister will know, one can apply for extra structural funds when there has been economic decline in an area.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

If I am correct, all three of those issues were raised by the Moray task force in the meeting that I had with it earlier this week, and action and initiatives have been taken on all three. Let there be absolutely no doubt about this: the Scottish Government will live up to its responsibilities as far as the people of Moray are concerned. We are talking about an impact on approaching a quarter of the local economy. Few decisions in history have threatened such an economic impact .

Although we might not always look to the United States of America when it comes to social initiatives, the Moray task force made it perfectly clear to me with an illustration from that country that when major bases are closed there, the Department of Defense takes responsibility for remedial action in the local economy with the intention of securing as many jobs and as much investment as the military presence previously provided. We will fulfil our responsibilities and progress the points that the member makes, but everybody in this chamber should ensure that the Ministry of Defence lives up to its responsibilities as far as the people of Moray are concerned.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

We on this side of the chamber have argued for the retention of the RAF bases in Moray, we will continue to do so and we will be happy to be associated with any cross-party campaign on that basis.

Does the First Minister accept that the current UK Government inherited from its predecessors a £38 billion black hole in the defence budget, which made cuts inevitable? Will he join me and my constituents in Mid Scotland and Fife in welcoming the retention of the aircraft carrier contracts that will protect 6,000 jobs at Rosyth and on the Clyde, many hundreds of apprenticeships and the future of the Scottish shipbuilding industry?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

I will, and I welcomed the decision on the carrier contracts in a letter to Liam Fox that was sent to him yesterday following the meeting with the Moray task force. I am intent on maintaining the cross-party approach to the issue. However, when we had the cross-party meeting with the Secretary of State for Defence and discussed the future of Kinloss, I was able to quote to him the exact phrases that he had used to the Prime Minister about the importance of the Nimrod replacement. The words were not mine or those of Iain Gray, Annabel Goldie or Tavish Scott, but Liam Fox's own words, so I find it difficult to understand why something that was essential according to the Secretary of State for Defence less than a month ago is not essential now.

As far as Lossie is concerned, the reason for taking an all-party approach is that there is to be a discretionary decision on which air base will host the Tornado fleet, therefore it is vital that we argue the case for Moray as a Scottish national case with the support of all the political parties in the chamber.

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

It is my privilege to represent Scotland's second-biggest infantry barracks at Glencorse in Penicuik, so I am well aware of the impact that hosting armed servicemen and women has on our local economies. The document comprising the Scottish all-party contribution to the defence and security review process was stronger at the end of that process than it was at the start. Can that process be continued to include a national response from the chief executives of HIE, Scottish Enterprise, Skills Development Scotland and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities leadership group in a national action group that considers all our defence installations in Scotland? As the First Minister rightly says, this is a national issue.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

Specifically, the Moray task force is preparing a submission on the case for Lossiemouth. At the meeting earlier this week, it asked me whether I believed that the case would be backed by all party leaders in Scotland; I said that I believed that it certainly would. I believe that all party leaders will endorse that document on an all-party basis when it is produced next week. The reason for producing the document quickly is that we believe that the decision on the case will be made in the next few weeks. I hope that that reassures the member of my bona fides in wanting to pursue an all-party approach to such decisions. In my view, that offers the best chance of securing an outcome for Moray and for Scotland.