Delays in MoD decisions that affect Scotland make the task of local regeneration even harder, warns ANN McKECHIN
Back in February I visited Kinloss, Elgin and Lossiemouth to hear from the communities about the closure of RAF Kinloss and the continued uncertainty about the future of neighbouring RAF Lossiemouth.
The weather was calm and brilliantly sunny but along with my Labour colleagues, David Stewart MSP, Rhoda Grant MSP and local councillor, John Divers, I came away with an overwhelming impression of a whole area cast into a dark limbo by not knowing what the next week would bring. My meeting with trade union representatives from both bases had to be re-arranged at short notice – the hotel where we were due to meet had gone into administration a few days beforehand. I wonder since my visit how many more hotels, shops and businesses in both Lossiemouth and Leuchars have closed or have had their growth curtailed because of the delay in a decision?
Now that we have that decision, I am calling on the Secretary of State for Scotland to stand up for both Kinloss and Leuchars, and to undertake that he will not abandon these communities who have served our armed forces for generations.
It’s time to for the government to articulate a clear action plan for getting the community back on its feet and kick starting the local economy, We need details of any intended redundancy package for civilian staff at Leuchars and Kinloss and of when it will be paid to them. We need to see special Jobcentre task forces being sent in to the area to help the local Jobcentres cope with the mammoth task of matching the high skill sets of base workers to new roles. We need full co-operation with trade union officials who are desperate to ensure that their members are not cast upon the scrap heap as a result of this ill-thought out decision. And we need a clear road map of economic recovery for the areas.
The local communities themselves around Kinloss and Leuchars must be consulted on future plans for both the bases. If armed forces from Germany are indeed to be relocated to Leuchars and Kinloss, then the MoD needs to be explicit about the timetable – these communities cannot be totally abandoned until 2014 when it is expected the army bases will open and there needs to be an interim plan of action.
They need to be clear about how this transition will be managed, with particular attention to what support will be given to local services to cope with this sudden influx of population. The government must listen and engage with the communities who are key to delivering new growth and creating much needed jobs. It would be a grossly unfair price to pay for an area that has given so much support to our armed forces over such a long period of years to ignore their voices.
It’s not just about jobs, however. Many service personnel have bought their homes in the areas – what help will be provided to their families if they need to re-settle given that the local housing market has coming to a crashing halt? What will be the consequences for schools and GP surgeries during this period of upheaval? And what about local businesses and SMEs, who have seen credit lines dry up over the past months? They will desperately need banks to be patient and look at the long term picture while Leuchars and Forres find their feet again, and we as politicians should be using our influence to persuade banks to take that view and to play their part in enabling the local economy to keep going.
The decision has been announced but this doesn’t mean that Labour will cease to scrutinise the defence review. We know that beneath the title of review it is simply an emergency cuts programme without proper consideration of the UK’s long-term security needs. This has been exposed by the UK’s continued involvement in NATO airstrikes on Libya. Time and time again Labour and military experts have highlighted the deep flaws within the Strategic Defence Review, and time and time again the government has dogmatically refused to listen.
I draw hope from the resilience, spirit and energy shown by both the Leuchars and the Moray Task Force as they conducted their campaigns to save their respective bases over the nine long months since the initial announcement. Leuchars and Kinloss may have lost the campaign but they won the arguments time and time again. I am certain that they will take that dedication and commitment and turn it to ensuring that their communities thrive in spite rather than because of a series of very bad decisions by the government.
Ann McKechin is the Labour MP for Glasgow North and Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland.