SNP’s Westminster leader Robertson fears MoD will target former RAF base for closure amid talk of selling off sites to fund defence
Following the controversial decision to scrap the Nimrod programme, the former RAF base at Kinloss was given a new lease of life as an army barracks.
But according to Angus Robertson, the SNP’s leader at Westminster, that future is now under threat as the Ministry of Defence (MoD) carries out a review of its property portfolio.
The MoD, whose land currently spans about half a million football pitches, is selling off sites across the UK which can be used for much-needed housing. The MoD says that “every penny” raised through the land sales will be re-invested in defence.
While Kinloss is not one of 22 sites currently earmarked, Mr Robertson says he has it from an “impeccable source” that the former air base could be closed.
That is likely to be a major concern for those living in the local area, not to mention the 720 military personnel and 200 family members at the base. Coming so soon after the RAF ended its association with Kinloss, it would be a major blow.
Handed over to the army for use as a barracks in 2012, Kinloss is now home to 39 Regiment of the Royal Engineers.
It is also one of three RAF Mountain Rescue bases in the UK.
Mr Robertson, the MP for Moray, has described the threat to Kinloss’ future as a “betrayal” so soon after the withdrawal of the RAF.
But time doesn’t stand still, and the harsh reality is that the MoD cannot preserve an asset in perpetuity when cuts are happening across the public sector.
A massive amount of money has to be cut from the defence budget, although it still apparently has the necessary funds for the renewal of Trident, thought to be around £30 billion over the life of the programme.
It is inevitable that the MoD will take a close look at its estate – as has happened in Police Scotland and in local authorities across the country.
It may yet conclude that the base is surplus to requirements, although it seems any decision is some way off.
There is also the issue of whether an independent Scotland – as desired by Mr Robertson’s party – would need a base at Kinloss. The base currently houses a regiment sent north from Cambridge.
In the event of Scottish indepedence, the regiment would need to be recalled, and it seems unlikely that an independent Scotland would need facilities at both Kinloss and nearby Lossiemouth.
The closure of Kinloss would be a hard one to take. However, we cannot acknowledge that our armed forces have to be remodelled to reflect a new era and at the same time want to keep all facilities open.
Furthermore, the need for new housing to be built in this country is undeniable.
Let’s hope the base doesn’t close, but we have to be prepared for the possibility that parts of the MoD estate are no longer required, and cannot be kept open simply to serve the local community.
Right policy, wrong implementation
Despite the Scottish Government extending the entitlement to free child care, much of the provision remains unsuitable for working parents.
That’s according to a survey of local authorities by the Fair Funding for our Kids group, which said families often encounter a lack of flexibility, with many councils only offering half-day places.
To be fair to the Scottish Government, its intentions on child care are laudable.
It has sought to improve the situation for working parents.
The government increased the entitlement to free child care for three to five-year-olds from 475 to 600 free hours per year in 2014.
But despite its best efforts, this new study indicates attempts at improvement have not been as productive as intended.
The campaign group found that while some families can place their children in private nurseries for the full day, councils were not always prepared to fund these places, even where the nurseries were in partnership with the local authorities.
And it found that in 2015-16 almost three-quarters of all free child care places for three to five-year-olds in Scotland were offered in council-run nurseries.
Getting this right should not be beyond the wit of central government and local authorities.
The policy has the potential to be transformational, but only if parents are actually experiencing the intended consequences and getting back to work.
But it would be a backward step to ditch the policy.
Instead, further investment should be made into getting it right.