I am very disappointed that Babcock International is considering closing the Stirling workshop, although I understand that a final decision has not yet been made. Along with Bruce Crawford, who has made many representations on the issue, I very much hope that the excellent work of the highly skilled workforce is recognised as a result of the consultation. In any event, we in the Scottish Government are standing by to provide what support we can.
Is the cabinet secretary aware that the Defence Support Group operation in Stirling is the central point for the maintenance of military equipment and the last of its kind in Scotland? Does he agree with Unite the union, which represents many of the 56 highly skilled workers at Forthside, that the proposals from Babcock represent a potential “logistics nightmare” for the armed forces in Scotland? Does he agree that if plans to move significant parts of the service, mainly to Yorkshire and Bovington, proceed, they will also be damaging to the local Stirling economy?
I certainly do not doubt the importance of the DSG site and the skills of the people employed there. The Ministry of Defence’s brutal basing cuts, which were announced last year, have left a number of outstanding questions on the operational and economic impact of its proposals.
The member might be interested to know that there have been many representations from Conservative MPs down south about closures in their areas but not one representation from Conservative MSPs or MPs about the basing cuts in Scotland, which is absolutely astonishing.
The proposals further underline the importance of MOD ministers coming to Scotland to engage strategically on the impact of decisions to close defence sites, including the one at Stirling, by 2022. They continue to refuse to do so, with one exception—Lord Duncan accepted my invitation, although we have still not managed to progress towards an actual meeting. I hope that one will take place.
I agree with Bruce Crawford that it is disappointing that Babcock is considering closing the facility at Stirling and I share his concerns, not just about that but about the footprint of the armed forces in Scotland.
We have just heard from the elected constituency MSP for Stirling the views about employment currently in the area. We take employment very seriously, which is why we have an unemployment level that is one of the lowest ever and an employment level that is the highest ever. Jobs are extremely important.
Of course we, and in this case, the MOD, can look at proposals that might be able to accommodate further housing, which Stirling needs, but we do not want that to come at the expense of good, well-paid jobs for highly skilled people in the Stirling area. I would have thought that the member would have been concerned about that, too.
I am of course always willing to meet members. I have had discussions with my colleague Bruce Crawford already. It is important to meet anybody who is willing to help the campaign to make sure that we keep these jobs here. Perhaps, if Dean Lockhart is willing to do so, we could extend that conversation to future planned closures by the MOD in Stirling and the rest of Scotland, which would allow us to address a much wider problem. I am more than happy to meet Dean Lockhart—if he is willing—and Bruce Crawford to discuss that subject. It is important, and we can save jobs in Stirling if we make the right case.