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01 MAR 2017

Thriving defence industries on our doorstep

When I entered into Parliament, I knew that defence was an area that I really wanted to focus on, given its central role in West Oxfordshire in industrial and military terms. I have been working to celebrate and ensure its continuing success in our constituency every week since then.

West Oxfordshire has a thriving defence industry, with world-leading companies based in and around RAF Brize Norton, the largest RAF base in the country, and beyond. Both the commercial and military sectors work together to provide invaluable skills and expertise which contribute to the local economy and provide fantastic opportunities and careers to residents. I have been involved in many different facets of the defence sector to champion the importance in ensuring our national security, and to celebrate the benefits this brings to West Oxfordshire.

In January, the Ministry of Defence negotiated a £410 million contract with Airbus Defence and Space that will secure at least 200 highly-skilled jobs here in West Oxfordshire. Airbus are based in RAF Brize Norton and will provide in-service support for the UK's Atlas A400M aircraft, securing a key part of the RAF airlift fleet until 2026. This investment is a great vote of confidence in West Oxfordshire and we should celebrate the fantastic opportunities this will continue to bring to the community.

I am sure all readers know of the key role Brize had in ensuring that troops and equipment were able to travel safely to Iraq and Afghanistan over the past fifteen years and, more solemnly, the moving repatriation ceremonies touched us all. As Britain's role in international conflicts has changed, Brize continues to be at the centre of the British Armed Forces, with troops and equipment being regularly deployed to humanitarian operations around the world.

RAF Brize Norton is situated in the heart of West Oxfordshire, and the people who live and work at the base are an integral part of our community. Its presence is an important part of the identity of our area and its impact is felt further than neighbouring Carterton.

For example, I recently visited the Airbus helicopter base in Kidlington, an important employer for many constituents. I was so interested to see all the world-leading work they are doing, in the civilian and military spheres.

I also went to see these cutting edge projects myself at RAF Brize Norton, meeting with those working hard to develop the UK's 21st century military and civilian capabilities. It was fantastic to see the day to day activities of personnel, both military and civilian. As a huge admirer of the RAF's consummate professionalism, I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to see many of the fleet up close, including the A400Ms and large C17 transports and to talk with their crews. As warfare and the role of the military evolves, it is important for our armed forces to be able to adapt to these changes and stay at the cutting edge of technology.

This was clearly illustrated to me by my recent visit as part of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Armed Forces visit to Scotland, where I saw the new Queen Elizabeth Class of aircraft carriers under construction.

These will be the biggest and most powerful surface warships ever constructed for the Royal Navy and will represent a step change in capability, enabling the delivery of increased strategic effect and influence around the world. This will include the HMS Queen Elizabeth and the HMS Prince of Wales, which are due to being sea trials later in 2017.

This was a fantastic chance to see first-hand to result of investment in our defence facilities, keeping the UK at the cutting edge of naval technology; the effect of these hugely capable ships, being felt nationwide through the extensive supply chain.

I will continue to do all I can to support and champion the defence sector and the fantastic contribution being made by West Oxfordshire. Although we are leaving the European Union, the UK continues to be a strong presence on the world stage. Britain will lead the way in our security and humanitarian work, shown through the Government's commitment to spend 0.7% and 2% of GDP on international aid and defence respectively. Here in West Oxfordshire, defence remains an essential part of our identity and economy and I will do all I can as your Member of Parliament to ensure we stay in the centre of government thinking.

If any readers have an issue which they want me as their MP to help with, do email me on robert.courts.mp@parliament.uk or write to me at Robert Courts MP, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA.

Published on 01.03.17 in the Witney Gazette.

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