13 October 2008
Last month Defence Management saw a leaked MoD memo confirming that despite resistance by staff to the move to rural Wales, cost overruns and fears over privatising defence training, the MoD was pushing ahead with the first part of the training- known as package 1. Ainsworth was scheduled to make an announcement last week, but avoided doing so when he came under intense questioning from one of the chief opponents of the move.
MP Mark Prithchard questioned the rising costs of the programme which have ballooned by £1bn in less than a year to £12bn. Ainsworth defended the programme, but admitted that even the cost of the alternatives was now escalating.
"We still have an affordable package that is far cheaper than the alternatives, and that has been worked on over the summer. We will be able to go ahead with defence package 1 and get value for money out of those proposals," Ainsworth said.
Later though he admitted that no financial agreement would be in place until next spring, a delay of a year since the package 1 was awarded to Metrix and by six months from the most recent target date for an announcement on the progression of package 1.
The PCS Union has been a staunch opponent of the DTR’s move to Wales and the privatisation of military training. Officials pointed out that the MoD had now admitted that the cost of package 1 and its alternatives were growing out of control. An unofficial PCS blog made it clear the union would continue to resist the DTR.
"This is another first for the DTR programme in suggesting that the "fallback posistion" is more expensive than the proposed move to St Athan !! No wonder the Department needs to give Metrix another six months grace to rearrange costings to fit. PCS will continue to campaign against this looming financial disaster," PCS Shropshire said.
PCS Branch Manager H O’Harney said that the non-announcement was not a surprise, considering that RAF Cosford staff had already waited six months: "A £12 billion PFI carrying on in this current financial crisis seems ridiculous given the risks and affordability issues. Our members at Cosford have made it clear that they have no intention to move Wales and the risk to the training of the Armed Forces is still real. It would appear that the MoD want to privatise at all cost despite the huge risks."
The crumbling economy and the downturn in the property market have taken their toll on the DTR. The Metrix consortium originally planned to fund the new training centre in Wales through the sales of excess MoD estates that would be freed up when staff moved to St Athan. But the downturn in the property market threw off the entire business plan and financial support for the programme, forcing Metrix officials to examine another way to fund the programme.
To add to the programme’s woes, civilian trainers from RAF Cosford, the base which lost out to St Athans for the training contract, have been resistant to moving from the suburban West Midlands to rural Wales. There have also been concerns over the preservation of the military ethos since the training will be privatised instead of being run by MoD staff and military personnel.
Pritchard has called the privatisation of military training " a privatisation gone too far."