Harriett Baldwin MP
Minister for Defence Procurement
Ministry of Defence,
Wednesday, 16 November 2016
Thank you for finding time to meet with me yesterday to discuss the situation in Yeovil, following the GKN redundancies.
I was glad to hear of your work abroad to sell the AW159 Wildcat helicopter and to know that you believe this aircraft has wide market appeal in other countries.
But I am sure you will agree with me that it is vital that the benefit of the work and skill enhancement of these sales, if they are achieved, should benefit, not just Leonardo, but the Yeovil site and its workforce. You know my concerns on this matter, which I repeated to you in detail during our meeting. It seems to me that there is nothing in the Government’s Strategic Partnership Agreement with Leonardo which would in itself prevent Leonardo from effectively siphoning off technology assets and skills from Yeovil to Italy, while transferring Italian costs to the Yeovil site. I am, I should stress, NOT saying this is happening – only that the terms of the agreement as it stands means that it could happen – with very grave consequences for the Yeovil site as a whole. I accept, of course that any such “siphoning” strategy would be contrary to the spirit of the Strategic Agreement. But unhappily it is not, it appears, contrary to its letter. I asked you for an undertaking that the Government would keep a close oversight on the conduct of the Strategic Partnership in order to ensure that the Yeovil site is not disadvantaged. I hope you will be able to provide this in your response to this letter.
I also pressed you, as I have in my letters to the Secretary of State, for a clear undertaking that the forthcoming Government Green Paper on the national industrial strategy, due to appear you said before the end of the year, would include a clear statement that the Government regards Britain’s stand-alone ability to design, manufacture and assemble helicopters as an essential part of our national aero-space industrial base which should be preserved. I was, I confess, surprised to learn that, even at this late stage you were unable to provide this assurance, on the grounds that the Green Paper is being drafted by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. But surely it cannot be the case that, as Minister for Defence Procurement whose decisions have a profound impact on the country’s aero-space industry, that you have not had – and do not intend to seek – input into the Green Paper? I hope you will be able to re-assure me on this matter. If it were to be the case that there was no such statement in the Green Paper, then people would be bound to conclude that this Government, unlike its predecessors, was not fully committed to maintaining the full range of skills, integrated assembly and technology, which only the Yeovil can provide for the nation.
Finally, there is the matter of the GKN tooling for the AW 159 Wildcat work currently being carried out in Yeovil. This tooling is, as you know, essential for the production of the AW159. I pointed out to you the fact that the MoD owns this tooling gives the Government very substantial leverage over what happens next. It is open to the MoD, as owners of this tooling, to insist that it will not be shipped abroad, but maintained on the Yeovil site. This will, of course ensure that much the work involved will stay in Yeovil, rather than being allowed to leach away elsewhere, along with the technology and skills involved, We both agreed that the Government’s intention is to ensure that the Leonardo relationship should enable “the Yeovil group to continue to be a centre for the design and development of the AW159 and other aircraft”. I cannot see how this commitment could be fulfilled if the Government fails to use its ownership of the 159 tooling to ensure that the lost GKN work stays on the Yeovil site, instead of being shipped abroad, along with the jobs involved. I hope that you will be able to give me this undertaking in the near future.
Thank you again for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.