RAF Marham is “indispensible” to the region’s economy, say MPs

Norfolk MPs have told the defence secretary RAF Marham is 'indispensible' to the region's economy.

In a show of cross party unity, all nine Norfolk's MPs put their party political differences aside to sign a letter urging Liam Fox to choose RAF Marham as the sole location for the RAF's tornado fighter jets.

RAF Marham is fighting for its future against RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland after David Cameron announced tornado jets would be scaled back and there would be a single base for the jets in the Strategic Defence and Security Review last month.

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond has already written to Liam Fox setting out his concerns about the RAF base in Moray saying the loss would not be absorbed easily within local communities, while other Scottish MPs have warned the loss of RAF Lossiemouth would decimate their local economy.

As well as Conservative South-West and North-West Norfolk MPs Elizabeth Truss and Henry Bellingham, Conservative Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman, South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon, Norwich North MP Chloe Smith, Great Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis and Broadland MP Keith Simpson all signed the letter alongside Liberal Democrat North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb and Norwich South MP Simon Wright.

When making the case for RAF Marham the MPs quote figures backing up their claim West Norfolk is a more deprived area than Moray, where RAF Lossiemouth is based.

The letter said: 'It makes economic and military sense as the principal engineering work is carried out at Marham and the site is well located for the Afghanistan conflict.

Most Read

'In addition, compared with the alternative site for the sole tornado base (Moray), the surrounding area in Norfolk suffers from higher unemployment and deprivation and would be gravely hit if the base were to be closed or used for another purpose.'

The Marham base provides employment for 3600 RAF personnel and Ministry of Defence civil servants, 1220 contract staff, and 350 other civilians.

The pay for RAF personnel and MOD Civil Servants alone amounts to �102m, much of which is re-invested in the local economy.

It also said that more than 70pc of the base's BAE employees come from the local area.

'Marham is the largest single employer in an area with few other employment opportunities', the letter said.

Quoting the Office of National Statistics offical labour market statistics, the MPs told Liam Fox that 7.4pc of the economically active population in West Norfolk are unemployed, compared to just 4.8pc in Moray.

In West Norfolk 23pc of the population are economically inactive, compared to just 18.4pc in Moray, while 15pc are in receipt of out of work benefits compared to 12.5pc where Lossiemouth is based.

The letter also said that 15pc of the population have no qualifications compared to 9.6pc in Moray.

'Removing a key source of employment and training will be disastrous for the local economy', the letter said.

The MPs also warned there would also be a loss of training. Technology students from the Robin Hood College in Doncaster visit the base for on-site training. There are currently 30 such apprentices going through Marham.

The letter added: 'The quality of training is excellent, with a large number of engineers rapidly finding employment in other technology industries after their tenure with the RAF, most notably in the oil industry and developing wind farm technology.

'With Group Lotus nearby the area is fast becoming a centre for high quality engineering. It is highly unlikely that engineers employed at Marham would be willing to move to Lossiemouth, with the resultant loss of retained knowledge and specialist skills.'

The letter is also signed by Norfolk County Council leader Derrick Murphy and the leaders of district council. For West Norfolk Council Nick Daubney, Broadland council Simon Woodbridge, Breckland council William Nunn, Great Yarmouth council Barry Coleman, South Norfolk council John Fuller, North Norfolk council Virginia Gay and the Mayor of Swaffham Ian Sherwood.

The former South-West Norfolk MP Baroness Gillian Shepherd has also signed the letter.

An announcement over the future of a number of bases is expected to be made in the New Year.