Base jobs review sparks closure fears

A TOP-level review to pin-point ways of cutting civilian jobs at Suffolk's two USAF bases has prompted fears that one of the huge stations may be shut.

A TOP-level review to pin-point ways of cutting civilian jobs at Suffolk's two USAF bases has prompted fears that one of the huge stations may be shut.

Staff at RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall were said to be "deeply concerned" by the news that a task force had been flown in from the USAF in Europe to establish where and when the axe should fall.

One worker said many feared the development at the two bases – which will focus on areas where there is job duplication between the stations – was a clear indication that one was being earmarked for closure.

Community leaders also expressed anxiety at the Department of Defense's rationalisation plans, which they warned could damage the local economy and leave civilian staff facing an uncertain future.

The team was at the bases yesterday and head of public affairs for RAF Lakenheath, Major Francisco Hamm, said their review to establish exactly where cuts can be made should be complete by the end of the week.

Maj Hamm said the team would primarily examine roles that were duplicated at both bases with a view to meeting targets set by officials in Washington. The rationalisation plan has been proposed as part of an air force-wide scheme to reduce manpower by 13,000 – and about 850 of these cuts have been earmarked for Europe.

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"Everything is still in the exploratory stage. This will be a combined team effort to look at whether consolidation is a possibility," he said.

He said the gyms, judge advocacy offices, dining facilities and public affairs units at both bases would all come under scrutiny. Maj Hamm stressed: "They will look at whether a single service can cater for both bases as the hospital at Lakenheath does – that works fine."

He said the military capability would not be affected.

"The reality is that the air force has to be leaner and meaner and more flexible for us to do our jobs – we have to be able to quickly move to any threat anywhere in the world. By consolidating some off our services it won't impact on our operational missions."

The spokesman said there was concern among the 1,300 civilian staff on the bases but stressed that in no way did the review indicate the closure of one of the bases. Maj Hamm said it was too early to estimate how many positions would be lost in Suffolk if consolidation were recommended. "That is one of the reasons the task force is coming here – to look at the functions and facilities and figure out the numbers," he added.

However, one British civilian worker told the EADT there was great anxiety on both bases.

"People are very worried. Many of us think that if they're looking to have only one of everything there's no need for the two bases so one will be closed."

News of the review also sparked concern off the base and community leaders said alternative industries must be attracted to the area to compensate if the plans are realised and jobs are lost.

Bruce Rutterford, chairman of Lakenheath Parish Council, said: "There are around 650 official civilian positions at each base, with additional work carried out by sub-contractors.

"But I can fully entertain the thinking behind this as it costs a huge amount of money to maintain the facilities. If rationalisation does take place, we will have to start looking for other things to replace the air force's input in the local economy.

"We also hope there would be a reasonable period of time before rationalisation so we could try to get alternatives sorted out, working with both bases, local councils and the various people who would be affected.

"We just hope the air force does not decide to withdraw altogether, as there is talk at the moment they may move their bases to some of the new Nato countries. If that happened, we would have to look at bringing other industries into the area to replace them.

"But the United States Air Force has been here for a long time, which has proved of benefit to both communities in many ways. We would be very sorry to see them go."

The task force is made up of representatives from United States Air Force in Europe, 48th Fighter Wing, Mildenhall's 100th Air Refuelling Wing and the Third Air Force, based at RAF Mildenhall.

The findings will be presented to General Gregory Martin, United States Air Force in Europe commander.

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