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Friday, 31 October 2014

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Boats will be huge asset in the future

THE criticisms that were levelled at both BAE Systems and the Ministry of Defence by The Guardian newspaper last week over problems with HMS Astute must be viewed with proper perspective and balance.

EM John Woodcock
Barrow and Furness Labour MP John Woodcock

Given that the boat is both technologically more complex than the space shuttle and also a first-of-class submarine, it would be surprising if everything had been plain sailing.

And if we need the testimony of an individual who has unimpeachable knowledge of the vessel and first-hand acquaintance with her operational capabilities, we might need look no further than her commanding officer.

After the smoke from The Guardian’s salvos had cleared, Commander Steven Walker gave a measured response that amounted to a strong defence of the boat – and by extension a vindication of Barrow shipyard expertise.

A career submariner with oceans of experience in the service, Cdr Walker described HMS Astute as “a truly awesome submarine with a world-beating potential.”

In a statement the senior officer also said he had witnessed the submarine outperform anything he had served on in the past.

He admitted there were challenges to overcome – but they were not safety-related and even he “could not inspire 130 men to come to sea with me if they too did not believe in the capability, potential and ultimate safety of this fantastic submarine.”

Cdr Walker would hardly have made such a defence of the boat if he was not sure of the accuracy of his assessment.

All associated with the Astute programme know the yard had problems in re-acquiring the skills needed to build such sophisticated submarines.

This was because the last Conservative government of the early 1990s left a gap between build programmes.

People know that was a costly mistake which must both serve as a warning to future governments and a reminder that short-termism must be replaced by meaningful procurement reform.

But the superb workforce at the yard remains on track to produce outstanding boats that will be a credit the area and a huge asset for this nation’s defence in the years to come.

Finally, let me send my good wishes to the organisers and all who will be taking part in the two-day Ulverston Dickensian Festival which begins on Saturday. Now in its 14th year, the colourful community festival gives locals and visitors a glimpse of life in a market town at Christmastime during the Dickensian period – right down to the roasting chestnuts.

Hope to see you there.

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