Friday, April 22, 2005

MoD Plans held pending UK Election result

Caruana hopes to win support from army - Opposition reiterates commitment to defend jobs

The effort to pull MoD back from its decision to contractorise hundreds of jobs in Gibraltar continued yesterday when Britain’s top army man Chief of Defence Staff General Sir Michael Walker visited Gibraltar to inspect fortress installations. And Sir Michael said yesterday that MOD are “waiting for the outcome of the election in Britain before work is taken forward”.

Security had put a blanket on any announcement of the visit but, in addition to inspecting military installation, Sir Michael met with Chief Minister Peter Caruana and Opposition Leader Joe Bossano separately to hear their views on the crucial issue of MOD jobs.

Mr Caruana made no secret of the fact that he is hoping that senior figures like Sir Michael will allow their sympathies with Gibraltar to influence their position at high level talks. Sir Michael commanded the Royal Anglian battalion in Gibraltar in the mid-1980s.

After his meeting at No 6 with Sir Michael Mr Caruana said yesterday that most uniformed personnel have a “degree of affinity to Gibraltar” not shared by the non-uniformed personnel who took the decision affecting Gibraltar in this case.

Last year Mr Caruana shared the dais with the General in London when they took the gun salute marking the tercentenary.

Sir Michael told reporters that he was briefed on the issue in Gibraltar and said he could explain the practices traditionally used in the UK MOD in this context but pointed to the fact that the issue is now at ministerial level. He said that they were waiting for the outcome of the election in Britain before work is taken forward. He would not speculate on the final outcome of contractorisation. “We will have to let that process role,” he said.

Mr Caruana had only spoken to the General on contractorisation. “This decision has not been made at military operation level. It has been made by MOD bureaucrats and ministers. But he is in an extremely influential position. To recruit him to the Gibraltar point of view would certainly help,” said Mr Caruana adding that he was not saying that he had recruited Sir Michael to that position. But he had put to him that there were ways to achieve reasonable efficiency saving in a way that minimises the economic and social impact on Gibraltar.

Sir Michael had, said Mr Caruana, undertaken to look further into the matter. “He is in a hugely important and influential position to contribute to the debate about whether the MOD should or should not modify its position,” he said.

Opposition Meeting

The Leader of the Opposition Joe Bossano also met with Sir Michael at The Convent. Also present at the meeting were the Governor Sir Francis Richards and Commodore Adair.

Mr Bossano said he had explained the implications, in the context of the size and composition of the Gibraltar labour market, of transferring work to contractors which would close the avenue for Gibraltarian jobs in the Ministry of Defence, the second largest employer of Gibraltarians after the Government of Gibraltar.

Mr Bossano said he had stressed that this was politically unacceptable irrespective of any other consideration. He reminded Sir Michael of the solid support and goodwill that the MOD had always enjoyed from the civilian community and that this was being put at risk. This, he added, meant that the planned move was not in the MODs own interests.

Mr Bossano also asked for details of the savings the MOD was looking for and pointed out that if the only reason was to reduce operating costs then the matter should have been approached differently, and other ways of reducing costs should have been explored in partnership with the Unions. He told Sir Michael that the numbers did not add up in terms of the expected savings from the use of contractors.

However, the Opposition Leader said that Sir Michael had explained that it was not just a question of money, but introducing a different and more efficient way of operating by relying on private contracts to supply services and this was the policy that had been decided and was being implemented in the UK.

Asked by Sir Michael what was likely to happen if things went ahead and the ISP contractor took over, Joe Bossano said that he could not speak for the Unions but there was nothing to prevent the Unions declaring themselves in dispute with the ISP if it reached that stage.

“In that event the MOD would finds itself without the capacity to run the generating station, the Z-berth for nuclear submarines or the armament stores and with an ISP incapable of delivering these services also,” said the GSLP leader.

“The MOD, Mr Bossano pointed out, seemed to have forgotten the often used argument of the past opposing civilianisation of posts when it was argued that to ensure security of service delivery, this had to be ring-fenced from the effects of industrial action. The Opposition is fully committed to defend the MOD jobs and to give whatever support the workforce and the Unions require."

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