Red Dragon – a project by the Ministry of Defence (MOD), Welsh Assembly Government and the then Welsh Development Agency (the Welsh Authorities) to provide modern aviation repair facilities at St Athan, South Wales – has cost the taxpayer around £113 million, although it was meant to have saved MOD money and protected jobs in the area, according to a joint report released today by the National Audit Office and the Wales Audit Office.
The project was established in 2000 and involved the modernisation of ageing MOD facilities, the construction of a super-hangar for fast jet repair and an aerospace business park promoted by the Welsh Authorities. DARA – the Defence Aviation Repair Agency – was the intended main tenant, with most of its work on RAF fast jets being moved into a purpose built facility. However, the MOD committed to the project without having decided on its full vision for aircraft support. Once this vision had been established, but after the Red Dragon deal had been closed, MOD announced in 2005 that DARA would close its fast jet business at St Athan, leaving the site without its anchor tenant by April 2007. The super-hangar project has achieved efficiency savings of only £57 million (accounted for in the £113 million total net cost) as opposed to planned savings of £263 million. Over £1 billion of cost savings have separately been made through transferring repair to main Royal Air Force operating bases.
The closure of DARA’s fast jet business also resulted in many job losses which the Welsh Authorities had originally intended to prevent through the project. It was also hoped that 4,000 new jobs could be created over 15 years through the development of the aerospace park, but the closure of the fast jet business delayed and complicated these plans and only 45 jobs have been created so far.
The MOD and the Welsh Authorities did not work sufficiently closely during the project. Although they had complementary objectives, there was no common purpose between them, with the MOD interested in securing more efficient repair of fast jets and the Welsh Authorities interested in safeguarding and creating jobs in South Wales. When the MOD decided that the St Athan site was no longer the most efficient place to repair its fast jets, the objectives were no longer complementary. The MOD and the Welsh Authorities did not have a shared understanding of each other’s key assumptions. The Welsh Authorities were not told as early as they might have been about the implications for St Athan of the MOD’s review of fast jet support. However, there were examples of effective collaboration to address key issues of joint interest, with the Welsh Authorities and the MOD cooperating on marketing the site.
The MOD and the Welsh Authorities are now working together to secure the future of the site. There are currently plans by the MOD to establish a Defence Training Academy using the super-hangar, which the MOD and Welsh Authorities expect to bring significant economic benefits to South Wales. The MOD and the Welsh Authorities expect that the Academy will bring over 5,500 jobs to the area (although a third are likely to be filled by staff relocating from other parts of the UK). The Welsh Authorities also expect that the Academy will provide an impetus for current plans for an aerospace park, potentially creating around an additional 2,000 jobs.