The rumoured privatisation of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary is said to be a done deal, according to Union officials quoted in todays Independent.
The RFA employs 2,000 people and runs 16 ships, supporting the Royal Navy’s operations around the globe. The move could result in British sailors being replaced with cheap labour from countries such as the Phillipines, and even fears that new RFA ships could be built in India and China, hitting British shipbuilding hard.
Ministerial sources say that the MoD is struggling with severe cash-flow problems because of Afghanistan and has asked the head of every department to identify 10 per cent cuts – adding up to £200m – by Christmas. One sources spoke of “blind panic” in the MoD, such is the scale of the cash crisis. “Wherever they can save money, it’s forget about the long term.”
The RMT leader, Bob Crow, said a loophole in the minimum-wage legislation exempted shipping. “The RFA is mainly a British crew,” he said. “But this is purely a cost-saving exercise. The only way they could save large sums of money is by cutting the cost of the staff. So the people who supply the fleet with fuel and munitions would be casual labour, and it doesn’t take much imagination to see the inherent security risks in that. It could also mean that new ships are built in India or China, rather than British shipyards. We will use every tool in our possession to fight this.”
John McDonnell, the left-wing Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington, predicted there would be a backbench rebellion over plans to privatise the RFA. “There will be a lot of anger. It is lunatic in the extreme at this point in time – who in their right minds would make us vulnerable in this way? It’s extraordinary. There would be a rebellion of backbench MPs. It comes close to a general election and covers a lot of concerns – from security to the principle of privatisation,” he said.
An MoD spokeswoman said: “The ministry is looking at ways we can improve efficiency across defence. We are considering a number of options how we achieve this, and trade unions are fully engaged in the process. No decision has yet been made.”
Now, from my cynical point of view, when a Government spokesperson says ‘no decision has yet been made’, that lets the cat out of the bag. Improving efficiency? If it wasnt so serious it would be hilarious. Also, it merely confirms that the Ministry of Defence is run by accountants.
Sadly there are also bigger issues at hand. The Royal Navy simply has to get better at fighting its own corner. In many respects it is still the ‘silent service’ when it comes to standing up for itself. And where do we stand on future projects? Its all very well planning for new Aircraft Carriers, but if we are so hard-up we have to privatise our support services? Also, the Royal Air Force has to look at itself. How useful are those 200 odd Europfighters compared to 16 Auxiliary vessels?