SNP holds crisis talks with Tory minister in battle to save carrier contract jobs
SCOTTISH Government ministers will today hold crisis talks with their political opponents to decide how to work together to protect defence jobs north of the Border.
• An artist's impression of the new aircraft carriers
The talks come as pressure grows on UK ministers to commit to the continuation of the multi-billion aircraft carrier project in Scotland.
The Scotsman has learned that Scottish Secretary Michael Moore has been involved in behind-the scenes talks at Westminster, putting forward "considerable advocacy" to protect defence jobs after it emerged that the two Royal Navy supercarriers being built at Rosyth and on the Clyde could be under threat.
With the Ministry of Defence under pressure to cut its budget by a fifth, the UK Treasury has said it will announce a decision on 20 October.
BAE systems chief executive Sir Ian King has already told the Commons defence select committee that the company has been asked to consider a number of options ranging from "one carrier to no carriers".
Sir Ian's comments sparked fears that the that any downgrading of the 5 billion programme could cost thousands of jobs at shipyards on the Clyde and at Rosyth.
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who was due to take part in the all-party talks in Edinburgh today, said any decision to cancel the contracts would be "crazy" and that even considering the move was "madness".
Meanwhile, new figures have revealed that more than 100 contracts totalling about 1.25bn were awarded towards the construction of the two new aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales.
The figures obtained in a parliamentary answer to a question by Thomas Docherty, Labour MP for Dunfermline and West Fife, show that equipment sub-contract orders placed between November 2006 and June 2010 were awarded to 68 different companies across 60 UK parliamentary constituencies.
Mr Docherty, who represents the Rosyth dockyard, said: "To rip up these contracts, worth millions, at this stage would not only be financial madness, but political suicide, and I hope the coalition government sees sense."
The Labour MP for Glasgow South West, Ian Davidson, backed Mr Docherty's calls and said campaigners should "maintain the pressure - particularly on Michael Moore" to ensure the carriers were built.
A Westminster source told The Scotsman that the Scottish Secretary would speak up for defence interests north of the Border.
The source said: "Ian Davidson is right to recognise that Michael Moore is important in this process. He's a senior UK voice raising Scottish interests.
"It would be far more constructive for opposition parties to get behind his considerable advocacy on behalf of Scottish defence interests, instead of playing politics."
Meanwhile, the Deputy First Minister called for work on the carriers to go ahead, after the figures about the contracts were revealed.Ms Sturgeon, speaking ahead of today's talks, said: "These figures just expose the madness of considering the cancellation of the contracts for the two aircraft carriers.
"It would be crazy to cancel these contracts and not only lose the jobs and skills they will provide but the money already being signed off."
A Scotland Office spokesman said: "The fact remains that the defence spending review will make the best available choices about the UK's defence needs on both strategic and economic grounds, within the financial constraints inherited by the coalition government."
BAE hopes to raise 1.3bn in unit sell-off
Defence giant BAE Systems is hoping to raise US$2 billion (1.3 billion) through the sale of one of its US businesses, according to reports.
The group plans to offload its Platform Solutions unit, which makes electronic components for both defence and commercial sectors.
The move to offload the business, which does not represent a core part of the group, comes as BAE prepares itself for looming government cuts to the defence budget.
The speculation comes just days after BAE announced plans to axe nearly 1,000 jobs in the UK following changes to the defence programme announced last year.
The Platform Solutions unit makes electronic components for the commercial and defence sectors, including cockpit displays for fighter jets, digital engine controls for commercial aircraft and electronic components for hybrid buses.
The business is part of BAE's Electronic Intelligence and Support division, which employs about 32,000 staff, including 1,500 in Rochester, Kent.
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