Saturday, December 23, 2006

Seasonal Burying

High maintenance

As we all know, public holidays are an established opportunity for our rulers to bury bad news, so it's always worth checking the Ministry of Propaganda's news release site on the last working day to see what's going down.

What jumped off the page yesterday was this:

"New Tornado contract will save £510m

The MoD has today awarded a £947million contract for support of the RAF's Tornado fleet.
The ATTAC (Availability Transformation: Tornado Aircraft Contract) programme will maximise aircraft availability to the front line and significantly reduce support costs, saving £510m over the first 10 years of the contract.

As prime contractor, BAE Systems will work in close partnership with the MoD Defence Logistics Organisation (DLO) and the RAF to deliver the two-phase ATTAC contract. This programme brings together all aspects of Tornado fleet support and will be undertaken at RAF Marham in Norfolk, one of the main operating bases and the maintenance hub for the RAF's Tornado GR4 fleet."

So BAE of Arabia is to be given yet another £1bn UK government contract. Can that be value?

Now, in case you don't know, changes to the maintenance arrangements for RAF planes have been a highly controversial- and expensive- area.

In 1999, the government set up DARA, the Defence Aviation Repair Agency, to bring together the maintenance operations of the RAF, the Navy and the Army. Its HQ was at St Athan in South Wales, and according to the local MP, "£80 million was invested in the most advanced purpose-built military aviation facility in Europe, which opened only in April 2005. It is the size of three football pitches, with 47 bays, so it can repair 47 jets at any one time."

However, the government has now executed a spectacular U-turn. Another one. And pausing only to get the South Wales vote in for the 2005 election , it announced the closure of most of the facility.

So another £80m incinerated.

But of course, it could get worse.

"Close partnerships" are all very well, but as taxpayers, close partnerships with tarnished operators like BAE should make us feel very nervous.

For example, we need to know how BAE actually got this contract. Was it a competitive tender? And if not, does that mean there isn't actually anyone else outside BAE (the manufacturers) and the existing DARA teams capable of doing this job? And if so, once the DARA team has been laid off, won't that mean that BAE has us by those short curly things?

Those of us who still rather quaintly regard a billion quid as real money, would like some answers.

How convenient that the people who might have raised it publically have all broken up for the hols.


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