LIAM Fox, the Coalition Defence Secretary, may delay announcing a decision on the fate of Scotland’s two remaining RAF bases until mid July, right in the heart of the summer holidays, according to the First Minister.
Mr Salmond met with the Defence Secretary on Wednesday to press the case for retaining RAF Leuchars and RAF Lossiemouth. RAF Kinloss has already been scheduled for closure and its Nimrod maritime reconnaissance planes scrapped, leaving Scotland and the UK with no long-range patrol capability over the Atlantic.
Speaking after the meeting, the FM said: “The Defence Secretary insists that nothing is ruled in or out at this stage and that no final decisions have been taken. He’s aware that lots of communities want an answer to this – there will be answer by July 19.”
Mr Salmond went on to say that the majority of RAF bases are now located in the south east corner of England. He asked: “What kind of configuration is that in strategic terms?”
Dr Fox visited RAF Leuchars and RAF Lossiemouth on Wednesday. After the visit he said: “We cannot rush this decision – we must make sure it’s the right one.” However, the Westminster recess begins on 19 July, suggesting that if any decision is delayed till then it will escape parliamentary questions.
The delay over any decision on the future of the bases is impacting on local businesses. Lesley Ann Parker, chief executive of Moray Chamber of Commerce, says: “Businesses are fighting for survival just now. The delay is already causing dreadful economic conditions. Any further delay is devastating for business confidence.”
Moray MP Angus Robertson says: “A prolonged period of economic uncertainty is the last thing we need on top of the loss of the Nimrods from RAF Kinloss.”
The RAF in Moray support more than 5700 jobs – 16 per cent of the area’s workforce. The bases also contribute £160 million in wages to the local economy.