Fox to meet anxious Scots leaders over defence cuts

By Peter Wozniak

The leaders of Scotland’s main political parties are set for anxious talks with Liam Fox to raise concerns over the impact of defence cuts.

Led by Alex Salmond, the Scottish first minister, the leaders will argue against cuts that could see the cancellation of two aircraft carriers and other key defence projects based in Scotland.

Scotland is the location of much of the UK’s defence industry and infrastructure. It is feared that cutbacks and cancellations could lead to a permanent loss of skills and employment.

The Scottish politicians will attempt to persuade the defence secretary to spare the country from the worst of the cuts planned in the strategic defence and security review (SDSR) and preserve those contracts already planned, especially the aircraft carriers – currently planned at a cost of five billion pounds.

The leaders of the SNP and the Scottish branches of Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats recently published a document outlining what they claim would be disproportionate effects on Scotland’s industries.

The document warned: “Decisions… have the potential to have a devastating effect on local communities, communities which are, in many cases, already suffering from the recession and the resulting increase in unemployment and other adverse economic impacts.”

Union leaders were originally intended to be at the meeting, but the MoD has reportedly refused the Scottish Trade Union Congress (STUC) any presence.

Grahame Smith, its general secretary, reacted unfavourably.

“The defence secretary’s decision to exclude trade unions from the meeting amounts to a disgraceful and brazen snub to a loyal, dedicated and highly productive workforce whose aim was simply to contribute to a mature discussion about the future of their jobs,” he said.

The defence secretary is under intense pressure to find savings in the defence budget, with the army’s role in Afghanistan being prioritised – leaving the Royal Navy and RAF to bear the brunt of the cuts.

It emerged in a leaked letter that Dr Fox is deeply concerned over the conduct of the SDSR being overshadowed by the dominance of the spending review on all departments.