It was an honour to be able to host a debate about RAF Valley. Here is the speech I gave in Westminster Hall:
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the future of funding and employment in RAF Valley.
Bora da—good morning. It is an honour and a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Twigg. I must declare an interest, as I am a member of the armed forces parliamentary scheme.
Anyone who wants to spend time in my beautiful constituency of Ynys Môn should know that there is an RAF base there. They might never have seen or even heard of it, but they will know it the first time one of the Hawk jets goes overhead. That is also a great way to spot a local because locals rarely look up when the planes fly over. They simply pause their chat for a few seconds and resume naturally when the noise has passed. Visitors, on the other hand, stand there with a shocked look that says, “What on earth was that?” My children hear the jets as they fly over our home near Valley, and I say to them, “It’s the sound of freedom.”
RAF Valley has long been a flying training station for the RAF and Royal Navy. It is the home of No. 4 Flying Training School, where No. 25 Squadron, under the command of Wing Commander Tim Simmons, and No. IV squadron, commanded by Wing Commander Jamie Buckle, provide advanced jet training for the next generation of RAF and Royal Navy fighter pilots. They train in the BAE Systems Hawk TT jet, which has advanced avionics and is the perfect leading trainer for pilots moving on to frontline aircraft, such as the Typhoon and the F-35 Lightning.
No. 72 Squadron, led by Wing Command Chris Ball, joined the base last year and carries out basic flying training in the Texan T1 aircraft. RAF Valley provides two thirds of the UK’s fast-jet training, delivering basic and advanced courses. The pilots trained at RAF Valley go on to secure the skies, protect UK airspace at home and defend UK interests overseas. The station is home to the UK military flying training system, one of NATO’s most advanced fighter pilot training programmes, and RAF Valley is an acknowledged centre of excellence. It is Britain’s equivalent of “Top Gun”.
RAF Valley is the base for the RAF mountain rescue service, which is expertly led by Squadron Leader Ed Slater. His team is on-call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to save lives and support the UK and local emergency services. Barely a day goes by in the summer without the Daily Post citing another daring rescue in Snowdonia—the kind of press coverage that my team can only dream of. The 202 Squadron is also based at RAF Valley, where, under the leadership of Squadron Leader Martin Jarvis, it teaches UK military helicopter crews highly skilled maritime and mountain flying techniques. There has been an RAF base there since world war two, when it was established as a fighter station to defend Merseyside, the industrial north and the Irish sea from enemy air and sea activity. From 1943, it was a major staging post for United States army air forces arriving from the United States to help the war effort. It has long been established as an operational training base.
Ynys Môn is rightly proud of its RAF heritage and RAF Valley is an integral part of its fabric. I declare a further interest, as my grandparents were in the RAF during world war two—indeed, it is where they met—so I have a real passion for the service, as I would not be here without it.
RAF Valley is more than just a military base. It is the second largest employer on Anglesey after the local authority. It has a Whole Force of about 1,500 personnel made up of approximately 350 military and civil servants and 1,150 industry partners.
[Intervention from another member]
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. It is my privilege to support Ynys Môn. I agree that the RAF plays a significance role on the island.
Many other local people are reliant on work in the station’s supply chain, and many large companies support its output, such as BAE Systems, Babcock International, Ascent Flight Training, Affinity Flying Training Services, Airbus Helicopters and Eurest Support Services. From highly skilled engineers to kitchen staff and cleaners, every single one of them plays a key role at RAF Valley. It is a critical part of the island’s economy. Many children from the base go to local schools and learn Welsh, and staff and their families integrate within the community. Many return to live on the island when they leave the RAF.
The Whole Force team, led by Group Captain Chris Moon, intentionally develops close formal and informal local connections. Engagement activities include community council briefing days, working with Bangor University on history research projects and liaising with Wales armed forces covenant stakeholders. It has actively supported the local island games team which, we have just learned, has won its bid for the 40th anniversary of the International Island games to be held on Ynys Môn in 2025. RAF Valley organises safety campaigns, works closely with the local aviation society and provides personnel to support the local Royal National Lifeboat Institution, mountain rescue and first responder groups.
The rural outlying nature of Ynys Môn means that activities for young people on the island can be sparse. There are high levels of youth unemployment and school attainment is generally below average, particularly for boys. Seeing a clear gap in the market, RAF Valley operates extensive youth engagement programmes involving many local groups. Civilian and military personnel from the base, in particular June Strydhorst and Squadron Leader Graeme Muscat, are proud to support the Jon Egging Trust, with its inspirational and award-winning outreach programme for 14 to 16-year-olds. RAF Valley has hosted the under-16 and under-18 Welsh Rugby Union training camp and offers junior football and tennis camps in association with the Isle of Anglesey County Council.
With Bangor University, RAF Valley supports the Profi project, an experiential learning and mentoring programme aimed at 18 to 24-year-olds, and STEM Cymru projects. It also works closely with Careers Wales to support youth projects across north Wales and help young people to establish transferable skills and find employment. For local schoolchildren, the station hosts on-site STEM activities and school days, and is actively involved in the air cadets, girl guides and scouts. Many of the military personnel volunteer with local youth organisations while they are based at the camp.
Indeed, RAF Valley has an active station charities committee, and many charities across north Wales have benefited from funds raised by the station. Charity track days, aviation society spotters days and the Tour de Môn cycling event are just a taster. I cannot wait to stick on my white beard and face mask and join them on their Santa drop to Ysbyty Gwynedd this Christmas. From organising beach cleans to their thrift shop recycling project, to acting as custodians for a section of the famous Anglesey coastal path, RAF Valley is definitely part of day-to-day life on Ynys Môn. Indeed, the Padre —Mike Hall, who I met recently—told me that they even support entrepreneurs in their community centre.
I am fortunate that the RAF community embraced and welcomed me. I visited the station recently and was taken around by Group Captain Moon, who proudly showed off his station, and particularly his dedicated and devoted staff. He told me:
“Whilst the RAF might seem to be high tech equipment focused from the outside, it is our people, from across the Whole Force, that really give us our edge. Some of our people have worked here for over 40 years, and if you cut them open it would say RAF Valley on the inside!”
While there, I saw and spoke to members of the Whole Force carrying out a range of duties, and from the minute I arrived on station, the site’s “one-team” approach was clear. While visiting 72 Squadron, which played a key role in the battle of Britain, I met many of the military and civilian personnel of Ascent and Affinity. They are rightly proud of the heritage of their squadron. There was a real team atmosphere, and it was great to meet the dedicated workers of “Menai Cleaning”, proudly wearing their 72 Squadron name badges.
It was a privilege to have a go in one of the station’s state-of-the-art flight simulators. Although my flying was not perfect, I was told that it was similar to that of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education. I am thinking of giving them a “Top Gear”-style leader board to track the parliamentarians who visit.
Warrant Officer Nikkie Jones showed me around the air traffic control tower, where the professionalism and ability of the controllers was evident as they safely and efficiently directed all the Hawk, Texan and helicopter activities through the skies. Wing Commander Nikki Parr summed up the view of the team best when she said to me:
“In a career of over 28 years within the Royal Navy and the RAF, Valley is the best place I have ever served, with absolutely everyone pulling together to achieve our aim of getting Pilots to the Front Line; safely”.
Skilled jobs are obviously critical to the operational effectiveness of the base, and to the economy of Ynys Môn. Our island is over-reliant on tourism, which, as we have seen only too clearly this year, is a fickle mistress. We need good-quality, well-paid and reliable jobs for our young people to move into when they leave school. Too many are forced to leave the island to seek work elsewhere. RAF Valley, with its innovative technical partners, has provided a much-needed source of employment locally. The teams provide excellent opportunities, with high-quality training apprenticeships and long-term career progression possibilities. I will give a couple of examples.
Laurence Peers was raised in Holyhead and left school with no qualifications. He started working at RAF Valley in 2002, and today he is an experienced supervisor in the avionics and electrical trade. Indeed, it was Laurence who got me in and out of the flight simulator when I visited the station. Laurence said to me,
“please do all you can to keep giving the young people of this island the best chances in life if they wish to stay and live and make a reasonable living where they were brought up.”
John Patchett was posted to Valley in March 1984 and stressed that the Hawk team workforce has 40 years’ experience, and that the force needs to retain and build on that collateral. He told me that he and his colleagues chose to remain at Valley because
“it’s not only a workplace [or] a job to us, but a way of life. The island and nearby mainland is our home, or has become our home.”
His team wants to stay on the island and pass their skills on to new generations of young people who desperately need the kind of training and support that RAF Valley can give them.
Ian Blackie, who works on the T1 planes, told me that the RAF Valley team is absolutely critical to putting RAF and Royal Navy aircrew on to the frontline safely and on time. He said:
“To maintain these 45 year old fighter training jets requires a knowledgeable, highly skilled and dedicated workforce. This knowledge and skill set are developed over many years and are unique to the RAF Valley workforce, with both hands-on maintenance and technical support cells.”
I recognise and appreciate that the BAE Systems contract is currently under negotiation, and I in no way wish to interrupt those discussions. However, I wish to impress upon the Minister the importance of RAF Valley to Ynys Môn. RAF Valley is not “just an employer” but a team, a family; and like all great teams, it operates efficiently because every part of it performs its own role, and does it brilliantly. The people of Ynys Môn want RAF Valley to grow and flourish. We are the energy island, an incubation of innovation, a place for technological creativity. RAF Valley is part of our DNA.
This debate is not just about current jobs. It is about ensuring the long-term future of RAF Valley. It is about keeping RAF Valley as a centre of excellence for training pilots for both the RAF and Royal Navy. It is about retaining and encouraging investment in both the base and its workforce. It is about ensuring that RAF Valley has the most up-to-date equipment, the best planes and, of course, the exceptionally high calibre of technical staff that it has spent years developing. I ask the Minister to tell me not only how jobs will be maintained at RAF Valley but, more importantly, what jobs, apprenticeships and other opportunities he expects to be created for the next 20 years. I ask the Minister to acknowledge the importance of RAF Valley, and to give us his absolute assurance of the MOD’s recognition of Anglesey’s appreciation of the station.
Although I appreciate that negotiations are under way at this time, I want the Minister to acknowledge the significance of the RAF to Ynys Môn. The people in my constituency are rightly concerned about the implications of the negotiations and the timescales to which they are being conducted, so I ask the Minister to set out exactly where the negotiations stand at this time, and when those affected will know what is being decided. Finally, I want to look beyond 2025 and ask the Minister whether he will work with me and ministerial colleagues to get further operations to RAF Valley.