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Choppers chopped out?

Helicopter production ignored in industrial strategy
Shaun Noble, Monday, January 30th, 2017

Business secretary Greg Clark is being asked why there is no mention of UK helicopter production in the government’s much-heralded industrial strategy.


Unite has written to Greg Clark, secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy, as 221 jobs at the GKN helicopter site in Yeovil remain under threat when the plant closes at the end of 2017.


GKN workers make airframes for Italian-owned Leonardo Helicopters – formerly AgustaWestland which is on the same site – and GKN has said that Leonardo has decided to take all future AW159 Wildcat work ‘in house’.


Last week, there was a Westminster Hall debate on the industry’s future, following Leonardo losing out to Boeing last summer in its bid to gain the majority of the work for the latest generation of Apache attack helicopters for the British army.


In his letter to the minister, Unite south west regional secretary Peter Hughes said, “However, I am disappointed that during the debate, despite specific reference being made to the high skills, and range of design, build and servicing facilities on site at Leonardo MW in Yeovil, no assurance was given to the long-term future of the site.”


Hughes said he is ‘further frustrated’ that there is no mention of the UK helicopter capability in last week’s industrial strategy Green Paper.


The regional secretary said that he is looking for assurances and action in respect of commitment to the long-term future of the Yeovil site; a cost benefit analysis undertaken prior to any decision being made as to the future use of AW159 jigs and tooling; and Apache Boeing work packages for the Yeovil site.


“It beggars belief that last week’s much-vaunted industrial strategy makes no mention of the enormous contribution that helicopter production can make to the UK’s manufacturing base going forward,” Hughes said, commenting on his letter.


“Unite is keen that the case for helicopter production in the UK is not lost by default and benign ministerial neglect – the time for action is now.”


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