Scots super-regiment to be kitted out in foreign kilts

Key points

• Cut-price kilts for new Scots regiment

• Army lowers standards in search of savings

• Worries over poorly-made kit for troops is high

Key quote

"The kilts are clearly going to be sub-standard. Now there will be different cuts and shades on parades and it will be an embarrassment. The ceremonial Scottish wear of kilts and trews should absolutely be made in Scotland." - Jeremy Purvis, Borders MSP

Story in full

THE British Army has lowered the standards required of ceremonial kilts for the new amalgamated Scots regiment so that they may be manufactured from cheap tartan made abroad, a move critics say could lead to poorly made outfits.

Borders weavers Robert Noble has produced the tartan for the ceremonial kilts worn by Scottish regiments for 150 years.

But in an effort to drive down costs, the Ministry of Defence has announced it is putting the contract to produce tartan for the amalgamated Royal Regiment of Scotland up for tender.

It is also lowering the standards of the tartan's quality to allow other companies producing cheaper, lower-grade cloth to compete against the expertise of Borders textile companies.

The MoD has launched a competitive tender allowing any manufacturers to compete for the contract of 5,000 kilts, estimated to be worth 300,000, for the new regiment.

Previously, only a few firms in Scotland could produce woven woollen cloth to the high standards required, but the MoD has lowered standards so more firms can compete at lower prices.

Jeremy Purvis, a Borders MSP, said the MoD cost-cutting was misguided.

"This is about the standard of cloth provided. It is an insult to the company that has been providing it for over 100 years," he said.

The MSP also said the MoD's attitude and insensitivity towards the contract was a worrying reflection on attitudes towards the new Royal Regiment of Scotland. He added: "I hope very much it is not, but the way they have behaved in this incident does give that indication.

"The kilts are clearly going to be sub-standard. Now there will be different cuts and shades on parades and it will be an embarrassment. The ceremonial Scottish wear of kilts and trews should absolutely be made in Scotland."

The MSP tabled a motion last night before the Scottish Parliament asking for support and calling for MSPs to pressure the MoD to change its mind.

The Independent Companies of Highlanders first wore kilts as government troops in 1624. When they evolved into the Black Watch regiment in 1740, their great kilt uniform was standardised with a new dark tartan.

As the number of Highland regiments grew in the 18th century, they were given different tartans as a means of identification.

Scottish troops last wore kilts in combat during the First World War.

Roland Brett, the managing director of Robert Noble, said: "Tendering will take no account of the experience and investment we have with the ministry. All they are saying is 'give me a quote for this type of product'."

The firm has already produced up to 20 tartans for the MoD and even helped the department design a new tartan for the amalgamated Royal Regiment of Scotland.

An MoD spokesman insisted that the changes have been made in order to provide best value for the UK taxpayer and added that the new worsted fabric would be less "fluffy" in appearance.

The MoD contract will be directly between the kilt manufacturer and the MoD.

It is up to the producers of the garment to source the material at the cheapest possible price, making it more likely that it will come from abroad.

One and a half billion reasons why MoD is looking to save money

THE Ministry of Defence is notorious for its ability to spend money over budget.

It was reported to be 1.7 billion in debt in November 2004, in addition to a previous estimated 3 billion from 2003.

This wastefulness was due to the overspend on a project for Nimrod reconnaissance planes which went 408 million over budget.

This was in addition to the Eurofighter warplanes project which was 130 million over budget.

The cost of the Future Joint Combat Aircraft rose by 372 million and the overall cost of the top 20 projects has now reached 50 billion. One thousand battalions could be run for the same price, as the cost of running one infantry regiment such as the Black Watch is estimated at 17 million a year.