CONSERVATIVES in the Yeovil constituency held their annual dinner in Ilminster where members heard positive news about one of the district's key employers.

Guest speaker Gerald Howarth MP, the Tories' Shadow Minister for Defence Procurement, said that Yeovil-based AgustaWestland's Future Lynx helicopter was the 'only game in town.'

Anxiety is growing over the £1-billion contract and Yeovil MP David Laws has said he wants to get things moving on the Future Lynx project - which has been left in the pipeline in recent months and caused uncertainty for AgustaWestland whose workforce includes many people from the Chard, Ilminster and Crewkerne area.Earlier this year Mr Laws was left angry with comments made by one Conservative MP and claimed the party was trying to scupper the deal.But Mr Howarth, who had earlier in the day visited the AgustaWestland factory, reassured local Tory members that the party was right behind the Future Lynx project.

“The shortage of helicopter airlift in theatre is clearly impacting on the effectiveness of military operations on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq,” he said.

“It is vital we improve our battlefield helicopter capability, and currently the only game in town is the Future Lynx. In addition, the Royal Navy desperately needs to replace its ageing Lynx fleet.

“Our Armed Forces are paying the price for Labour's catastrophic £1.4 billion cut in the helicopter budget in 2004.”

Mr Howarth also told the guests that the Conservatives want to ensure that the UK has a strong defence industrial base to support our Armed Forces whom he praised for their courage and commitment.

Yeovil's Conservative parliamentary candidate, Kevin Davis, said how delighted he was to have Mr Howarth's support for the Future Lynx.

”This gives the lie to suggestions that the Conservatives do not support this project which is vital to Westland and which plays such an important part in the economy of the Yeovil constituency,” he said.