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New fears for jobs at air bases

PUBLISHED: 06:00 22 May 2003 | UPDATED: 13:54 03 March 2010

FEARS that one of Suffolk's two USAF bases may close have taken off after a top-level review to pin-point ways of cutting civilian jobs.

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.

FEARS that one of Suffolk's two USAF bases may close have taken off after a top-level review to pin-point ways of cutting civilian jobs.

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 on Monday 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.

"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 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.

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.

"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.


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