So now at last we know what Mrs May has decided shall be our future in Europe - or rather out of it. What she calls for is a fundamental break with our neighbours, our culture and our past of the kind which was never discussed during the referendum campaign.
Remember, when, time and again, the Brexiteers were asked what kind of Brexit they wanted? Time and again they couldn't - or more accurately, wouldn't - answer. Or, if they did, gave answers which were completely contradictory. Some said they wanted to stay in the Single Market; others demanded out; some proposed managed immigration; others insisted on none; some suggested a new trading relationship with the EU; others wanted to cut loose completely.
Like many others I have become increasingly concerned about the risk that Leonardo’s Yeovil site would drift towards a maintenance and assembly facility only. For this reason I have been pressing the Government for six months now to make it clear that they are committed to maintaining and supporting the full range of skills at Yeovil, so that we can continue to design and manufacture the nation's helicopters.
I therefore greatly welcome the answer I received today in the Lords from Government Minister, Lord Prior in which he promised:
"The capacity to manufacture helicopters in the UK is extremely important. The MoD is entirely committed to that. We will be publishing a refresh strategy later on in the year which ... will make that clear"
1,994 people in Yeovil have joined the 1 million+ people nationwide in signing a petition calling for the State Visit of President Trump to be cancelled.
The Department of Health imposed a £320m funding cut over 2 years on community pharmacies from 1 Dec 2016, which could lead to 1 in 4 pharmacies closing according to Alistair Burt MP, the former Minister of State.
South Somerset has 30 pharmacies, 29 of which provide care for extended hours, for example when GP surgeries are closed. Community pharmacies provide a range of health services, beyond the supply of medicines, and can help people to live independently in their own homes, stay well and avoid the need for a GP appointment.
Harriett Baldwin MP, Minister for Defence Procurement, has outlined in a letter to Paddy Ashdown how no decisions have been made about the future of the tools and jigs owned by the MOD at the GKN plant in Yeovil. Writing, “We have not yet made any decision on whether to allow our assets to be relocated offshore and this decision will be based on a balanced assessment”. Lord Ashdown has been lobbying the Government to use the ownership of this equipment to ensure that future airframes made by Leonardo for new Wildcat orders would be made in the UK.
Lord Ashdown has responded to the letter from the Minister, writing:
“I am glad that you have now agreed that the AW159 tools and jigs will not be allowed to leave the Yeovil site for Poland unless and until there is a full in-depth study of the comparative cost of the production on the two sites and that this will involved all relevant factors, such as the impact on the overheads of Leonardo’s Yeovil site, the cost both of transporting the tools and jigs to Poland and of transporting the assembled AW159 airframes back from Poland to Yeovil for fitting out.”
“I am grateful to you for finally giving this undertaking which will, it be welcomed, not just by the Leonardo workforce, but also by the Yeovil community at large. I also welcome this change in policy in favour of a proper competitive process, rather than repeating the procedure which applied when the Government foolishly gave the recent Apache order to the United States without any kind of tending process. ”
Paddy went on to ask the Minister if she would be able to ensure transparency in this decision making by providing the public with a broad list of factors taken into account when the Government publishes its decisions regarding the future of the tools and jigs – understanding that the specific commercially sensitive information must be kept confidential.
Paddy further wrote on at his surprise and concern that the Minister had been unable to be clear about the inclusion of a commitment to maintain a UK stand-alone ability to make helicopters in the forthcoming Industrial Strategy. Writing: “I am bewildered that you seem unable to give a clear answer to this crucial question at this late stage in the publication of the forthcoming White Paper. I am sure you will understand that the absence of such a commitment, when the White Paper is finally published, will be treated with shock, even anger, in the Yeovil area and far beyond.”
Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Spokesperson for Yeovil Constituency has reacted with concern to a new report highlighting the impact of cuts on rural areas.
Research for Rural England shows people in rural communities spending an average of £26.60/week more on transport than those in urban areas. This represents £1 in every £8 of disposable income. Figures also show a 25% reduction in the volume of Local Authority funded bus routes since 2011/12 which have hit rural communities, with the poorest suffering most.1
Transport is a vital service for people in rural communities because they need to travel to see a doctor, attend school or college, or go to work. For young people, access to education is a particular concern, Department of Transport figures show that “only half of rural users can get to a FE institution by public transport or walking ‘in a reasonable transport time’. Equally, less than 40% of rural users can get to a secondary school by public transport or walking ‘in a reasonable travel time’.2 The report goes on to highlight “The paucity of public transport networks and the absence of large employers are both barriers to delivering apprenticeships in rural areas”.
The rural population has a large number of people over the age of 65 (23% in rural vs 16% urban)3, yet it has less access to sheltered accommodation, dementia services and requires more home visits from GPs because of travel difficulties.
Lord Paddy Ashdown has secured the first question in the House of Lords for a Government Minster to answer the question:
“to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to retain the Government-owned tooling and jigs for the A159 Wildcat helicopter within the United Kingdom; and if so, whether these will be installed in the main Leonardo site.”
The Question will be answered on the first day the House of Lord returns from the New Year on Monday 9 January at 2.30pm.
Lord Ashdown has responded to the news that the GKN Plant in Yeovil is to close at the end of next year.
“Even if this news was expected by many, it is sad news and bad news for Yeovil and those affected especially just before Christmas. My heart goes out to them and their families. This is the inevitable consequence of the foolish decisions by this government to give the recent apache order to the United States without even a competitive tender.”
Lord Ashdown asked the Minster making a statement on the Nissan deal in the House of Lords yesterday the following question:
“My Lords, the Government’s welcome clarity, albeit given in secret to Nissan, has assured the continuation of car jobs in Sunderland and the north.”
“Does the Minister realise that their lack of commitment and uncertainty has contributed to costing some 290 high-tech aircraft engineering jobs in Yeovil?"
Speaking today in the House of Lords, Lord Ashdown asked Baroness Mobarik:
“May I draw the Minster’s attention to the fact that, in the light of the more than 250 job losses in Yeovil, I have just written to the Secretary of State for Defence to ask him to assure me that the preservation of Britain’s only stand-alone capacity for helicopter production in Yeovil will be part of the National Industrial Strategy. The Secretary of State has not yet answered this question. Will the Minster?”