Oh how things have changed from the last days of the previous government and the first days of this one.
We were promised a strategic review, an end to boom and bust (oh, sorry, wrong politician), an end to salami slicing defence reviews, a solid strategic bedrock for ‘our brave boys’ and above all else, no more conspiracy of optimism, where jam tomorrow was the default position when the MoD was balancing it’s books.
As we come up to the first year anniversary of this government it is telling that the latest defence news is of a hasty retreat from a politically damaging second round of cuts.
We all knew that Planning Round 11 was going to be bad, rumours started to surface at the end of January and early February about extra cuts as the expected jam tomorrow of Typhoon sales to Oman failed to get out of the jar.
Jim Murphy, the Shadow Defence Secretary, sniffed an opportunity and started windmilling;
The defence review has been rushed and botched. More rushed cuts to capability at this time of great global unrest would be wrong. Ministers must stop and think again
The reality was however, that the MoD had very little room for manoeuvre, with an increasing and high percentage of the budget already committed. The ‘Pay Now and Pay More Later as Well’ PFI bow wave is starting to reach the shores of the MoD and this, along with many other factors, meant that that it was going to have to resort to it’s usual voodoo economics to reach any sort of settlement.
Later in March it was revealed that Liam Fox was in talks with the Treasury about a reported £1 billion gap between fantasy and reality, this being made up of the Oman Typhoon sales mentioned above and fluctuation in fuel costs and currency rates. The indications were that George Osborne was standing firm and that the MoD would have to live within it’s means, however painful that might be.
And that would have been that, the MoD would have had to make those extra cuts.
But over the hill then rode Libya, with David Cameron writing cheques his SDSR ‘adaptable posture’ stance could not cash, some of the capabilities being used were destined for the chop (Type 22′s, Sentinel etc)
What is a politician to do therefore, there is a war on you know!
Of course, it will broker a deal in which the politically damaging headlines of further cuts whilst fighting in two wars can be staved off for another day.
The Government has also shown a huge amount of political cowardice, it is making redundant several tens of thousand of military and civilian posts but instead of allowing these posts to be reduced from the most sensible places it has lurched from one set of media image driven exclusions to another. The main ones being no one deployed on operations, pre deployment training or post operational tour leave (all two weeks of it) when the decision is announced. Given the high utilisation of existing personnel this of course makes things extremely complex and difficult to resolve, I know this might seem harsh and I do not want to seem cruel or oblivious to the operational impact but just because someone is deployed, should not mean they are immune for consideration for redundancy because what is important, is that the forces come out of this exercise stronger than before (remember that one) so making the artificial restrictions simply ties the hands of manning planners.
All because the Government is scared of the headlines of people getting their brown envelopes whilst sitting in a FOB.
This is not protecting the front line, this is not putting the interests of the forces to the fore, it is simply PR spin and a lack of moral fibre that will lead to poor decisions.
Remember those tough decisions, what a joke.
Instead of sticking to the SDSR and matching commitments to it, it would seem like Governments before it, this one has eviscerated capabilities and quantities but carried on grandstanding, talking the big one but only being able to deliver by taking advantage of the inbuilt ‘can do’ attitude of the forces.
Still, I am sure the six hundred odd million Pounds for Pakistani schools, a skills transfer of our painfully won expertise on counter IED and an admission that most of the world’s problems are our fault will make everyone more secure.
This is a good quote from EU Ref which I think sums up the situation quite well
So much for the strategic defence review – which has failed at the first hurdle. This is a policy the Boy and 13th Century Fox had years to think about, years to plan. They forced the pace – they were not interested in debate or discussion. They knew exactly where they were going … straight up a cul de sac.
Back to this non review of the SDSR then, what does it mean.
The SDSR decisions will stand but the extra cuts that were being planned as a result of PR11 will be staved off.
The reported £800m package allows the MoD to avert EXTRA cuts, not do anything about the ones already announced and it will still have to find an additional £200m from somewhere so stand by for more programme delays, those mythical Chinook’s for example.
It is early days yet and there might be a genuine rethinking on the strategic assumptions found in SDSR but in allowing individual equipment and capability issues to take precedence over the wider strategy we are simply following up one rushed botch job with another.
Despite lambasting the previous government about short term expedients that just pile up grief for the future this one is doing exactly the same, all this government is doing is putting off decisions until after the possibility of damaging headlines has passed.
So the nature of this agreement is, well, its a sandwich all right, but its not jam is it?
Its brown, and its not Nutella.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg says that it is inevitable that changes will be made to the Strategic Defence Review, while Lord West argues that any additional money should be used to reinstate the Harrier Jump Jet.
Defense News are reporting the gap filling deal comprises the following
- 12 month spending moratorium called the Comprehensive Commitment Control regime (3CR)
- This will cover all but essential expenditure
- An MoD spokesman confirmed ”Spending will be focused on operational requirements and issues like health and safety. 3CR will apply to the equipment program”
- Rumours of the Chinook and Warrior CSP being deferred but 14 Chinooks – 12 additional helicopters plus the replacement of two machines written off in Afghanistan – start in 2012 and be completed in 2014
- Training, spare parts and other spending requirements are also expected to be curtailed
- MoD research and technology may also be in the firing line for cuts