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Hope for defence jobs with helicopter scheme

By Western Gazette - North Dorset  |  Posted: May 17, 2012

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VITAL defence jobs in south Somerset should be secured by a massive defence equipment programme announced this week, David Laws has said.

The senior Liberal Democrat MP spoke out after Defence Secretary Philip Hammond told the Commons he had eliminated a £38-billion "black hole" in his department's budget.

Mr Hammond told MPs there would be a "new financial discipline" and outlined the £152-billion core equipment programme – with a new "contingency reserve" of more than £4 billion.

The programme includes new Chinook transport helicopters and upgrades to Apache and Puma helicopters.

Yeovil MP Mr Laws, whose constituency includes AgustaWestland, welcomed the confirmation that work will go ahead to develop and upgrade existing Merlin helicopters.

The upgraded Merlin fleet will be based at RNAS Yeovilton and is set to replace the outgoing Sea King aircraft, which will be taken out of service in 2016.

Mr Laws said the helicopters will be upgraded as well as "marinised" for use at sea. He said the Government had confirmed it will spend £12.7 billion on helicopter capability over the next decade, include the planned upgrade to the Merlin fleet.

"The announcement is welcome news for our area and should help to secure jobs at both Agusta Westland and RNAS Yeovilton," he said.

"With the long-standing Sea King fleet going out of service, it's good news that the future of RNAS Yeovilton has been secured, as it stands to be the base for the new fleet of aircraft."

Mr Hammond told MPs while the coalition had balanced the books, tough decisions were needed – and planned redundancies in the Armed Forces would still go ahead.

He claimed there had been a "woeful" lack of spending restraint in the Ministry of Defence in the past.

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