Rachael Maskell MP for York Central made a speech this week in Westminster to halt the planned closure of Imphal Barracks, York and save 1500 jobs in the city.
Making the case that York - with its 1000 year armed forces history - played a major role in the lives of all armed services from supporting children in our excellent schools, providing spousal employment and the opportunity to live in a city which wholly embraced the Army. Adding further representations on behalf of the Gurkha community, whom Rachael met with last weekend, the MP for York Central asked the Government to carry out its correct procedure, including the economic impact assessments that need to be undertaken before any such decision to close Imphal Barracks was made.
Rachael is proudly wearing a Nepalese Khata, given to her at her recent meeting with Gurkhas and the Nepalese community of York.
If the video doesn't load in the right place automatically, Rachael's contribution starts at 10:08:20.
Rachael's full speech can be read below or at Hansard : https://goo.gl/nJLVM3
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship in this important debate this morning, Mr Rosindell. I congratulate the hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant) on securing the debate.
The armed forces have more than 1,000 years’ history in the city of York, which was built on trade and also on defence. Imphal Barracks in my constituency, now listed to close in 2031, was built between 1877 and 1878. Two years ago my predecessor received assurances from the Ministry of Defence that the Army would stay in York. The Army basing plan on 5 March 2013 secured York as a garrison for the future, and serious investment was put into upgrading the buildings on the site. The city therefore believes the Government are wrong to close the barracks.
No economic or social impact assessment has yet been carried out, even though MOD procedures say that it should be. Can I turn the Minister’s attention to joint service publication 507? It says that an impact assessment should include
“redundancies or impact on the local economy”
and goes on to say that
“MOD investment appraisals are concerned with appraising public value; that is the value to UK society of a proposal or option rather than just to the Exchequer or the Department.”
That work has not even been undertaken—I understand from discussions with officials that it could take at least 18 months—so it is rather premature to announce the closure of Imphal, without that essential work being done first.
The Army provides some of the largest employment opportunities for the city of York. We have 728 serving personnel, who of course bring with them their fantastic families. We know that the MOD is wrestling at the moment with the issue of spousal employment, and there is no better place to look for opportunities than in a city such a York, with its two universities and a college, which provide excellent education, as well as York schools. The opportunity for armed forces personnel to base their children in York schools, where they can catch up with their education and do well, is so important. There are 376 highly skilled civilian jobs based in York—a city where the average wage is below the national and regional average at around £22,000. That is important for our local economy. If we also consider the more than 100 contractors as well, and the jobs at Strensall that will disappear, we are talking about 1,500 jobs in a city the size of York. That will have a very serious economic impact, and the impact assessment of that is yet to be done.
I am grateful to senior armed forces personnel who talked through the operational issues with me. As the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) highlighted, these measures will have a real detrimental impact on recruitment and retention in the armed forces. In France, this experiment was tried, and was halted in its tracks because it created real difficulty for recruitment and retention. There is already a retention problem for the Signals, which are based in York. This will escalate that and clearly destabilise the armed forces, which is not what we want.
I wear this khata today as we have a Gurkha community in the 246 Signal Squadron based in York. They form a central part of my community; their families are integrated. They worship at the barracks and are part of the reach into the city. I met with them on Saturday night—they pleaded to remain part of York, because they see it as their home, where they want to settle.
The reality is that the work has not been done behind the scenes. This is a Treasury-led issue, not a Defence-led issue. It is about time a pause button was hit and we reviewed the reality of the impact that these closures will have.