By David Williams
19 October 2010
Prime Minister David Cameron slammed the ‘appalling legacy’ of Labour’s defence procurement practices, as he revealed an 8% cut to the Ministry of Defence budget over the next four years.
Presenting the Strategic Defence & Security Review to the House of Commons on October 19, Cameron said the previous government ‘got it badly wrong’ when it ordered two new aircraft carriers.
‘There’s only one thing worse than spending money you don’t have,’ he told Parliament, ‘and that’s buying the wrong things with it – and doing so in the wrong way.’
The vessels are currently expected to have a combined cost of £5bn – but Cameron argued that the contract for the second carrier would be more expensive to cancel than to continue with. He also revealed that only one would be deployed fully, with the other in effect mothballed, being held on ‘extended readiness’.
Cameron criticised his predecessors for not ordering new aircraft to arrive at the same time as the carriers. He announced that the Harrier jump jet is to be ‘retired’ – but its replacement on the UK’s aircraft carriers, the Joint Strike Fighter, will not be ready until 2020.
‘That is the legacy we inherited – an appalling legacy the British people have every right to be angry about,’ he told the Commons.
Cameron also criticised his predecessors’ handling of the Nimrod reconnaissance aircraft programme, which he announced would be cancelled.
The programme has cost more than £3bn, is eight years late, and the cost per aircraft has ballooned by more than 200%.
Cameron revealed he would cut £750m from the cost of the replacement for the Trident nuclear deterrent – a major dividing line between the coalition’s Liberal Democrat members, who oppose the programme, and the Conservatives. Other cuts include 25,000 civilian job losses at the MoD, and combined losses of 17,000 from the Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy.
However, £500m is to be invested in measures to counter cyber-attacks on UK IT systems, while a third of the ‘protected’ budget from the Department for International Development is to cover conflict prevention.
Andy Hull, senior research fellow and national security specialist at the Institute for Public Policy Research, questioned whether the review would equip the UK to deal with the most pressing threats the country faces. He welcomed the investment in cyber-crime, which the government’s National Security Strategy, published on October 18, identified as a priority.
But ministers were still investing in ‘big-ticket equipment programmes we don’t need and can’t afford’, he said.
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union said he had ‘serious concerns’ over whether MoD civil servants would be able to support the forces in future.