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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 January 2008, 00:29 GMT
MoD allays firing range concerns
QinetiQ's rocket range tracking station, South Uist. (Pic: Norman Campbell)
QinetiQ's rocket range tracking station at Gerinish, South Uist
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has moved to allay fears that a test firing site on the Western Isles will close.

There has been speculation locally that the range and associated sites on South Uist operated by QinetiQ, on the MoD's behalf, will shut.

The MoD said the running of the facilities was being looked at as part of a wider review of its contract with a defence technology company.

A spokeswoman said there were "no plans currently to close or reduce sites".

QinetiQ operates a number of MoD test firing sites across the UK under what is called a partnership agreement worth 5.6bn over 25 years.

There is an option to extend the agreement for a further 25 years.

The MoD said that because defence needs and capabilities can change within a few years it was important to regularly assess the contract.

We realise that reviews can make people jittery and rumours start flying around, but it's the sensible way to conduct business
Ministry of Defence spokeswoman

The spokeswoman said the ministry was nearing the end of its first five-year review, which will also help determine the cost for the following five years.

She said: "We realise that reviews can make people jittery and rumours start flying around, but it's the sensible way to conduct business - there is no point evaluating the contract once it's finished.

"QinetiQ staff have been fully briefed, and local councils, MPs, MSPs, Scottish ministers and other relevant groups have been contacted."

The spokeswoman added: "No decisions have been made, there are no plans currently to close or reduce sites, and we thank QinetiQ staff for their patience and understanding."

The local authority, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, said it had a good working relationship with the MoD.

A spokesman added that the council would be confident of being informed of any changes.

Computer upgrade

The Uist range was opened in 1957 and was home to hundreds of army personnel, as well as an employer to local civilians.

Many Uist school-leavers found work in various apprenticeship schemes linked to the facilities.

A wide campaign was organised in the isles in the early 1990s when the test site was under threat of closure.

This included a visit to the islands by the House of Commons Defence Select Committee.

In July 1994, it was agreed that, while the military presence at the range was to be reduced, the facility would be retained with civilian contractors.

A 25m computer upgrade was completed before the sites were handed over to the MoD's research agency, DEERA, which was later privatised to become QinetiQ.

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