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Wednesday, 23 April 2014

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Minister’s job loss a blow for Cumbrian MoD staff

HOPES of saving 300 jobs at Longtown’s closure-threatened munitions depot have been dealt a blow.

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Hearing the arguments: Defence Minister Peter Luff, centre, visited MOD Longtown in August

Peter Luff, the Defence Minister who was to have decided its future, lost his job in the reshuffle announced by the Prime Minister this week.

Trades unions are disappointed because they believe Mr Luff was listening to their arguments.

The minister visited DM Longtown last month when he met unions and local politicians, who put the case for the depot be kept open.

He promised to make a decision by the end of the year.

The final say now lies with his successor, Philip Dunne.

Neil Scott, section secretary for the union Prospect, said: “It’s extremely disappointing.

“We don’t know what Peter Luff would have done but he has seen the depot first-hand and the local MPs – Rory Stewart, John Stevenson and David Mundell – believed he was moving our way.”

The Ministry of Defence is proposing to close DM Longtown in 2014, transferring its explosive-storage function to Kineton in Warwickshire.

Mr Luff had been due to rule on the plan in July.

He agreed to visit the depot first after a delegation from the unions and Cumbria County Council lobbied him in London in May.

Stewart Young, deputy leader of the council, said: “We are concerned at the change of minister at this late stage of the decision-making process.

“Clearly, we need to make contact with the new minister as soon as possible and make sure he is briefed on all the issues before he makes the final decision.”

Mr Luff, the MP for Mid Worcestershire, has announced he will not stand at the next general election. He said he was leaving the Ministry of Defence “of my own volition” after he and Prime Minister David Cameron agreed it was better to give a chance to someone planning to remain in Parliament beyond 2015.

The new minister, Philip Dunne, is the Conservative MP for Ludlow.

He co-founded the bookshop chain Ottakar’s, which was taken over by HMV in 2006.

Home Office Minister Lord Henley, who lives at Scaleby near Carlisle, also left his post in the reshuffle.

The 58-year-old entered Parliament in 1977 as a hereditary peer in the House of Lords.

He became a Conservative whip in 1989 and held ministerial posts in the departments of social security, employment, defence, and education and employment.

He was one of 92 hereditary peers allowed to remain in the Lords following the House of Lords Act in 1999.

He became an environment minister following the 2010 General Election then moved to the Home Office last year where he had special responsibility for crime prevention and reducing anti-social behaviour.

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