Page last updated at 13:23 GMT, Saturday, 21 November 2009

'Failures' of scrapped jet repair work that cost £113m

Two Eurofighter Typhoons taking off
The St Athan project failed when the MoD moved jet repairs to other bases

A scrapped defence project which cost taxpayers £113m is a lesson in how public sector bodies "should not work together," an assembly committee says.

Project Red Dragon at St Athan in the Vale of Glamorgan failed when the Ministry of Defence (MoD) switched its fast jet repairs to other RAF bases.

The public accounts committee said ministers failed to gather "crucial information" during the planning stage.

The Welsh Assembly Government is considering its response.

Project Red Dragon, launched in 2000, aimed to bring 4,000 jobs through modernising ageing MoD facilities at St Athan.

The ambition was to build a £134m "super hangar" to repair RAF fighters, with an aerospace business park built, backed by the then Welsh Development Agency (WDA), which is now part of the assembly government.

There is still some uncertainty as a result of devolution about the way in which public bodies should work
Jonathan Morgan AM, public accounts committee

But in 2005, UK ministers announced they were closing the fast jet repairs operation, with the loss of hundreds of jobs.

An auditors' investigation this year reported the project has cost the taxpayers £113m and, instead of creating up to 4,000 new jobs over a 15-year period, had brought only 45 new posts to the site.

The assembly's public accounts committee said it was concerned at "inconsistent" attitudes and assembly government's handling of the scheme.

It said ministers "failed to collaborate sufficiently and failed to gather crucial information" during the planning stage of Project Red Dragon.

The committee said the authorities, including the WDA, at times "acted as though the MoD was not a public sector body but an independent commercial company".

RAF St Athan
Project Red Dragon aimed to create 4,000 jobs at St Athan over 15 years

In a statement, the committee said this meant the authorities "therefore accepted [the MoD] would not provide all the financial information necessary to give a full picture of the benefits and the costs - at other times it seemingly assumed crucial information would have been volunteered by the MoD".

Committee chair Jonathan Morgan AM said: "This is an excellent example of how public sector bodies should not work together.

"While we accept that the basic concept and potential benefits to come from the Red Dragon Project at St Athan were sound, the committee is concerned at the way the Welsh government, WDA and Ministry of Defence worked the details out."

After the auditors' report was published in March, Defence Minister Quentin Davis said lessons had been learned from the project, something also said by the head of Wales' civil service, Dame Gillian Morgan.

Defence academy

Mr Morgan said his colleagues welcomed the learning of lessons but also recognised there "is still some uncertainty as a result of devolution about the way in which public bodies should work tighter on a project of this kind".

The inquiry said its terms of reference did not cover why the MoD pulled out of Project Red Dragon or why it committed to itself to the scheme before it had finalised its policy on aircraft support.

The committee added that it understood groundwork on Project Red Dragon was now set to pay off in a different way, with the super hangar and the surrounding facilities helping secure proposals for a £12bn military defence academy and a new aerospace park.

The Welsh Assembly Government is considering its response.



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