John Smith attacks Park Pritchard over academy PFI

John SmithVale of Glamorgan, Labour | Hansard source | Video match this
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the annual Welsh affairs debate. We do not have many opportunities in the House nowadays to discuss Welsh issues exclusively, so the debate is welcome.
As previous speakers have said, our debate today takes place against the backdrop of a serious global economic crisis—possibly the worst international financial crisis in the past 100 years. I would therefore like to take the short time available to me to refer to three projects in my constituency, but not parochially, because they all have valuable strategic Welsh importance. I want to use today's opportunity to draw the House's attention to several issues surrounding the projects.
The Conservative spokesperson has already mentioned the first project. It will come as no surprise to hon. Members when I refer to the defence technical academy in St. Athan in my constituency. It is progressing well. It was recently announced that Sodexho is to be the equity partner, replacing Land Securities Trillium, which had to withdraw because—let us make no bones about it—of the financial crisis. However, in many respects, Sodexho is a better fit. Unlike its predecessors, its core activity is facilities management, and it has been involved in the scheme from day one. It was always involved, but it has just become a 50:50 equity partner.
The Minister for the Armed Forces made a statement in the House, saying that the negotiations were progressing well and were on track. A clear timetable is developing. A detailed planning application for the scheme will be submitted in May this year and construction will commence around August next year. That timetable is important, because we have lost time in the past two years, mainly because the project is so large and complex. It is the biggest single Ministry of Defence investment and its importance for Wales cannot b e overestimated.
The project will provide 5,000 direct jobs and train annually 25,000 service personnel from all three services. It will provide a defence training strategy in some of the most sought-after skills in the world—technical, engineering and information technology skills. I have always argued that the real value to Wales as a whole—not only to my constituency—is not the 5,000 jobs or the £12 billion private finance initiative investment over 25 to 30 years, or even the revenue, which runs to tens of millions of pounds, that will go directly to the local economy, but the transformation of Wales's reputation to that of a country that has a centre of technical and skills excellence. Our reputation for being dominated—still—by metal manufacture and mineral extraction can be transformed into a reputation for high value-added technology. That is the benefit: a change of reputation and an ability to attract inward investment.
I am delighted that a Command Paper was put before the House on Tuesday, offering a contingent liability of £40 million to prepare the plans for this year and the design to get on with the construction next year.
Photo of David JonesDavid Jones (Shadow Minister, Wales; Clwyd West, Conservative) | Hansard source | Video match this
As the hon. Gentleman will know, we on the Conservative Benches also strongly support the St. Athan project. Does he agree that one of the key benefits of St. Athan will be to improve the perception of the military as a career for young people, with the high-quality jobs that if offers, and in particular as a career for Welsh young people? Does he agree that, today more than ever, going into the military is a good, attractive career for young Welsh people?
Photo of John SmithJohn Smith (Vale of Glamorgan, Labour) | Hansard source | Video match this
I agree with every word that the hon. Gentleman just said. Indeed, he should forgive me if I have not referred to that point, because the overriding benefit of the project will be to improve training in the military. Perhaps I should remind the House that, unlike now, every technical20qualification that will be achieved at the new academy will be a civilian-recognised qualification. We will be producing engineers for the future, including civilian engineers, so I accept the hon. Gentleman's remarks. We also had all-party support, which in my view is one of the reasons why we won the bid in the first place.

Photo of Lembit ÖpikLembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire, Liberal Democrat) | Hansard source | Video match this
I applaud the cross-party work that the hon. Gentleman has done to secure those jobs. Does he agree that one of the opportunities for Wales will be not to repeat the errors at Deepcut Army barracks—I understand that they are being shut down, with some of the work perhaps coming to Wales—where Cheryl James, the daughter of one my constituents, was, I believe, murdered?

Photo of John SmithJohn Smith (Vale of Glamorgan, Labour) | Hansard source | Video match this
Of course I agree with that.
St. Athan has been a huge success story for Wales and for Welsh politics. We won the bid because we were united across the parties and because—let us be clear about this—ours was the best bid. However, I must sound a rather disconcerting note this afternoon. The Command Paper was presented to the House on Tuesday, but—I have given notice of this to the hon. Gentleman involved—it was blocked. An obscure procedural motion was used on Tuesday on a point of order to block the contingent liability of £40 million. The process cannot be stopped, but the effect of what was done on Tuesday could be to delay a recession-busting project that is vital for our country.
I am sure that every Welsh Member of this House will condemn Mark Pritchard. I understand why he objects to the scheme: because he lost the bid. His bid did not win. I understand his protesting, but what is reckless and unacceptable is his bid to block the progress of the scheme. It is important that we move ahead with the planning in May. I call on all hon. Members to condemn his action. I am afraid that I must say to Conservative Members in particular: for goodness' sake, bring some=2 0influence to bear on him, because he is delaying a vital project.
Photo of Stephen CrabbStephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire, Conservative) | Hansard source | Video match this
I understand the hon. Gentleman's passion and commitment to the St. Athan project. We would all recognise and applaud that. However, it is deeply unfair of him to talk in such terms about my hon. Friend Mark Pritchard, who is not here and who does not have an opportunity to defend himself.

Photo of John SmithJohn Smith (Vale of Glamorgan, Labour) | Hansard source | Video match this
I gave notice—I have been in the House long enough to realise that I should do that. What I am doing today I do with a heavy heart. I have never done it before, but the project is too vital to play silly political games with it. The future of Wales is at risk.

Photo of Daniel KawczynskiDaniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury & Atcham, Conservative) | Hansard source | Video match this
As the neighbour of my hon. Friend Mark Pritchard, may I say that he is an assiduous constituency MP and works extremely hard? As Opposition MPs, it is the responsibility of us all to scrutinise Government decisions.
Photo of John SmithJohn Smith (Vale of Glamorgan, Labour) | Hansard source | Video match this
We have an overriding responsibility to behave responsibly. I will leave it at that, because I gain no personal benefit from making such comments, but it is important that I should make them today.
The second, related issue that I wish to raise is about an important piece of transport infrastructure: the M4 link road to Cardiff international airport—that is, to Wales's international airport. That has a bearing on the technical academy, because although we will not lose the academy if we do not get the timing for that road right, we might lose some of the benefits that could come to Wales. The onus is on us to maximise all the benefits from the investment, to ensure that Welsh people and Welsh businesses benefit first from the huge opportunity that is coming our way. We must get the transport links. Businesses in Pembrokeshire and west Wales will benefit, as will businesses in Monmouth and mid-Wales. We must get the transport infrastructure right and the M4 airport link road is a crucial factor in it, because it will serve the defence technical academy, and it will serve Barry—the second largest town in Wales—as well as providing a link to the airport.

A decision is imminent. We have had the public consultation and the Welsh Assembly Government's Deputy First Minister will take a decision shortly. The biggest decision to date has been about which route to choose. It is controversial—it will affect local people, so there is a lot of local concern about the impact on people's quality of life—but the decision on the route of the direct link to the airport is crucial. I call on the Minister to use all his influence with the Welsh Assembly Government to ensure that the decision is taken, and taken quickly.
I am deeply concerned that there may be prevarication and second thoughts about the strategic importance of this road; we should be in no doubt that this link road is crucial. We will never have a country seriously recognised throughout the world unless we have a serious international airport that provides comprehensive scheduled flights across the world. Air travel is still the cutting edge of business communication, even in comparison with broadband—I accept everything said about it earlier—and Wales must have a proper international airport. What we have now is a holiday charter airport; it is growing and doing well, but as the aviation White Paper said, it has a long way to go. This road is an absolutely necessary condition for the growth and expansion of Cardiff international airport. It may not be a sufficient factor, but as I say, it is absolutely necessary.

I flag up that issue because I hope that we will not make the mistakes of the past by thinking that some funding for a few extra routes or a few extra slots to European cities will provide us with the strategic advances that we need for the airport's future. The entire business community supports the road: the CBI in Wales, the Federation of Small Businesses, the Cardiff business club. Indeed, there is not a business in Wales that fails to recognise the importance of strategic access to the airport. It is supported by the planning authorities and it has been supported by every management of every company that has owned the airport over the past three decades.
It is a crucial issue—one of the most important road transport issues in Wales. We are really at the cusp, right on the edge, of making a decision on a matter that will drive the Wales international airport forward. The decision must be taken quickly and the right decision must be taken—that is, identifying what route to take, not having second20thoughts about whether we need such access to the airport.

No comments: