Tories slammed for failing frontline troops with defence budget black hole

Nathanael Williams

Full story emerges of MoD failures to negotiate better equipment costs leading to cuts in armed forces

THE UK GOVERNMENT has been branded a “disgrace” for failing to keep control of the UK’s spiralling defence equipment budget.

Scottish MPs have attacked the UK Government for failing to be specific on whether its plans to find £2.5bn worth of “savings” will affect front line military or not, after a a report by the National Audit Office (NAO) showed the extent of defence budget over-reach.

A debate will be held on the subject in Westminster today (Thursday 2 February), as UK defence minister Michael Fallon comes to Scotland ahead of the announcement of a new £3.6m submarine training school on the Clyde.

“It would be nothing short of a disgrace if we find front-line service personnel facing pay restraint to fill the Tories’ unfunded promises.” Kirsten Oswald

Kirsten Oswald MP, SNP spokesperson on armed forces and veterans, said: “The MoD has serious questions to answer. These figures suggest pay restraint for defence personnel could be hit for up to £1.5bn savings to meet the out of control costs for the defence equipment budget.

“It would be nothing short of a disgrace if we find front-line service personnel facing pay restraint to fill the Tories’ unfunded promises. The words of the [armed forces] covenant ring hollow when a badly managed equipment budget constantly sucks away the resources when we need to properly reward and care for those who serve in our armed forces and defence sector.”

A forthcoming debate at Westminster on the armed forces covenant will look at figures from the NAO report which show that spending on equipment for the armed forces will reach £178bn 2016 and 2026, an increase of 7 per cent compared to an increase of 1.2 per cent between 2013 and 2015. Critics from the Labour benches including Nia Griffith, shadow minister for defence, have questioned the UK Government’s commitment to protecting the pay of soldiers and negotiating “sound equipment deals”.

Table showing projected rise of spending on military equipment by UK Government

It has also led the NAO itself to warn that, “the risks to the affordability of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) Equipment Plan are greater than at any point since reporting began in 2012”.

According to the report, the MoD will have to find £5.8bn worth of savings in elsewhere in the defence budget over the next 10 years.

Speaking to CommonSpace Amyas Morse, the head of the NOA, said: “The affordability of the Equipment Plan is at greater risk than at any time since its inception. It is worrying to see that the costs of the new commitments arising from the review considerably exceed the net increase in funding for the plan. The difference is to be found partly by demanding efficiency targets.

“There is little room for unplanned cost growth and the MoD must actively guard against the risk of a return to previous practice where affordability could only be maintained by delaying or reducing the scope of projects.”

Table showing areas where armed forced equipment is spent and reasons for rising costs

The NOA report also found that the MoD’s equipment plan would be vulnerable to Brexit as £2.6bn of it was paid in euros and therefore would be affected by the change in exchange rates. 

CommonSpace contacted the MoD, however the department would not be drawn on the details of the report, the cost of equipment or the method it would use to achieve its savings. A spokesperson simply said: “HM Government holds the covenant with the armed forces in the highest regard” adding that “all procurement has been obtained and exercised in accordance to correct standards.”

Picture courtesy of Defence Images

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