UK defence issues and the odd container or two

#SDSR 2015 Talking Points – The Other Sort of Defence

The recent flooding has shown there is much more to do in preparing the UK and its people from the impacts of flooding and storms.

The National Security Council recognise flooding as a top 3 national risk and the MoD contributes nothing to flood risk reduction and very little to flood response.

I think we can all also agree there is an eagerness on the MoD’s part to be seen playing a greater part in civil resilience issues, if only for reasons of self preservation.

Which brings me on to the talking point.

Will the political parties seek to tap into the desire for improved flood defence works at the expense of the MoD budget settlement?

Swapping one kind of defence for another might be attractive to many.

If not, how will this desire for greater involvement in matter civil resilience, manifest itself within the MoD and SDSR 2015?

 

 

About The Author

Think Defence hopes to start sensible conversations about UK defence issues, no agenda or no campaign but there might be one or two posts on containers, bridges and mexeflotes!

39 Comments

  1. dave haine

    Not fair!…..Asking me to decide between my two top rant positions……

    However, as the leftish BBC have asked this question-
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-26271018
    I wonder if there will be some recognition within government that the defence budget has little room for economies now.

    The other factor is that I think that the Environment Agency is going to be the duty target- I suspect there will be more tales of waste, and part-time, shopping bosses, whilst appropriately-tasked MP’s and appropriately-briefed Journalists thunder that it’s ‘not fit for purpose’. And civil servants from other agencies gather like vultures, trying to tear bits off to build their own empires. Being a bit theatrical, I know…..

    This, as you might expect, is already happening down here in Somerset, with local radio and TV, asking such questions as ‘Why did the Environment Agency fail us’, ‘What replaces the Environment Agency now?’ And my absolute favourite ‘why Somerset should look after its own environment’….

    And TBH, that gives you an idea of where we could go- break up the EA, give its powers and responsibilities to local authorities, the national parks, Internal Drainage Boards or the Forestry Commision, whichever is most appropriate for the local area and its local challenges. Up the funding to whichever body takes responsibility, and allow them to obtain local funding, if required.
    And I wouldn’t pass on any staff, or equipment, or plans. Let the bodies, start with a clean slate, and employ whomever they want, and equip however they want.

    The MOD can carry on being the provider of last resort, although with a few PR-heavy projects for the Royal Engineers, and whatever training(/PR) opportunities arise for other units.

  2. DavidNiven

    Should the armed forces set up a unit that offers advice to local authorities on issues regarding such events, that way having a go to liaison who could determine when the armed forces are required?

  3. DavidNiven

    Cheers TD, do you know if it is through the STRE’s or a separate tri service unit? Do you think that we could start to utilise the STRE’s in a similar role to the Corps of Engineers in America for large scale infrastructure resilience? and would it be wise to?

  4. DavidNiven

    Cheers Phil,

    I was thinking more along the lines of a dedicated unit set up to deal with any queries from a local authority, maybe a sub unit within the STRE’s that is based on a dare I say, a HSE sort of style.

  5. Think Defence

    Not sure the STRE’s have any specific expertise in flood defence that is either not available in spades elsewhere or because the specialists in the STRE’s may well be employed in civilian roles anyway.

    If we look at the actual response for recent flooding and those events of a few years ago it seems to centre on provision of unskilled labour, transport and one or two specialist capabilities like aerial mapping or geo tasks.

    You could easily argue that all those are readily available in public and private sector and at a cheaper/better level so the use of the armed forces was a cover for poor planning or simple lack of resources elsewhere.

  6. DavidNiven

    So is it time to start standing up units for possible resilience operations on a seasonable basis, in the same way that the Navy deploys a vessel during the hurricane season?

  7. Phil

    As TD says, the military is being used because they have organised groups of labour which are very good at ascertaining what needs to be done, how to do it and then getting on with it whilst sustaining itself away from its depot or base. It is a classic case of the value of doing the basics well (organisation, leadership, feeding, watering and keeping dry).

    The military is a very expensive way of achieving these basics.

    We now have the obscene situation where an organisation wants to be involved in something for self-preservation reasons but even though it is the best at getting the things needing doing done, it is not the best organisation to use.

    All you want really is a body of organised and regulated men with trade expertise who can sustain themselves in a tented encampment or billet and operate for some time. There’s no need for the military to have anything to do with it other than perhaps have common procurement for tentage, field kitchens, hard standings, engineering kit, generators etc

    Really want you want is a construction firm married to a film set company (mobile accommodation, food, showers, toilets etc). All the expertise you need on the ground is contained in those two sorts of organisations.

  8. DavidNiven

    I agree it’s not the best use of the military, but as TD asked
    ‘Will the political parties seek to tap into the desire for improved flood defence works at the expense of the MoD budget settlement?’

    is there a way of staving off the cuts in defence (if that is what could happen) to pay for resilience, i believe we could do this by not harming the defence budget if we can say to the politicians that a unit/units are available 24/7 for said emergencies. If we use Loggies, Engineers etc who are already scaled for logistical out of area ops the there will be know real increase in expenditure for the armed forces as they will be using kit they are all ready trained to use. It would just be a paper exercise of officially giving notice to each unit as and when they are in the rotation.

    Hopefully this could be acceptable to the politicians and would negate the need of local authorities just grabbing their local unit who will be more than happy to assist because they believe it’s good PR.

  9. TED

    Heres a thought… Stop giving money to India for its space program to name just one country. Why are we giving foreign “aid” when we are in more need of it at the moment.

    It doesn’t require the cutting of MoD budgets it just requires us to stop giving money to corrupt regimes!

    I was thinking the other night that you could give the MoD the foreign aid budget. I’m sure they would stockpile the essentials for humanitarian crises and they have the means of implementing the aid as well. @Phil “very good at ascertaining what needs to be done” yeah exactly genuine humanitarian needs would be dealt with this way. I would rather the MoD were in chrage of this than Liberal vicars!

    How does the international aid (or whatever its called) budget compare to the MoDs. I assume its much smaller but I’m ready for a surprise!

  10. Phil

    How many people here accuse the government of not having a long-term plan or being able to see beyond its nose? How many then decry the DfID budget and salivate at the prospect of having all that money to buy kit? News to such people – the DfID is an example of the government thinking long term. That it has had to protect the money by law so that every “I need some money to solve the problems in my department” Minister can’t smash and grab it all the time shows how difficult it is to act in the long term.

    To everyone who complains they pay for this or that and it’s unfair, I can point to billions being pissed up against the wall on NHS IT systems and MoD procurement and benefit overpayments all of which represents billions spent to achieve precisely the square root of fuck all.

    DfID is not to blame for other things in the country being in shit-state. Smashing and grabbing that pot of money is not a panacea for fixing those things.

  11. Chris

    Phil – I have to agree. Its a shame the other departments in Government don’t adopt the same can’t-mess-with-it long term financial planning.

    An example from the other side of the pond, as described by a colleague who at one time worked on the International Space Station at NASA. From June to year end, the engineering teams would work hard on trying to progress the project in accordance with the plan. Over the same period, the US Gov’t committees would be arguing and horse trading on public funded projects. Most years most projects were likely to get less. At year end NASA would be told how much funding the Gov’t were going to provide – out to project completion, and with a funding profile. All productive work would stop within the NASA project team as all hands were needed to completely re-plan the remainder of the project out to completion in infinite detail, moving some stuff later in the programme to remain inside the budget profile, removing bits where funding was no longer adequate. Much reviewing by NASA and the Gov’t. By June a new multi-decade inch-stone plan would be in place and the team would put their efforts into working to this new plan, fully aware that the plan would change again the next year. The upshot of all this was the waste of a huge amount of project funding on multi-year, multi-decade detail plans as US Gov’t demanded ‘to show appropriate Programme Management rigor’ (US spelling is just so wrong…) when everyone knew it would only survive six months from agreement before it was torn up and re-planned. This then is a government adding value the only way it knows how – cut funding, argue with the supplier for months to get agreement on the best deal, then immediately cut funding again. Think how much more value that public funding would have delivered if the budget had been set for (say) 5 years and locked, with project plans only detailed for the period of guaranteed funding – that would have been 5 years consistent work on progress, not 2.5 years work and 2.5 years pointless replanning.

    Five year plans – what a novel idea…

  12. TED

    @Phil Yes everything needs to improve I isolated one thing there but I do except that there are plenty of other departments to blame. My probelm is DfID does not seem to give a crap about the UK. Look at the issues on our streets, they look different to the ones in Africa and the Philipines and I dont suggest they are as severe but there are issues and they arent being fixed are they?

    Lets make this clear I’m not saying remove their budget, I’m saying put them under the MoD. This way Genuine humanitarian disasters can be dealt with in the way the UK shoukd be seen to be dealing with such things. And as I alluded to the MoD can administer that cash more effectively. Wether that is sending a small flotilla crammed with aid and helicopters or flying it in. The MoD are also much better at identifying gun totting extremists and generally not throwing cash at them (or not as we are cureently seeing).

    I strongly suspect a lot of that budget goes into buttering up countries for our contracts. I.e. India. I’m realistic enough to think fair enough there. But where has it got us? No where India pulls out of Merlin deal. Cheers!

    Its the old argument why aren’t we fixing and defending this country better and pouring money into others?

  13. jules

    Well the FAB is £11 Billion, would buy us a Ford class Carrier every year…
    And a few F35′s to put on it…

  14. Peter Elliott

    One of the better things to come out of Rail Privatisation is that infrastructure is now funded on 5 year ‘Control Periods’ with which the Treasury is not permitted to mess.

  15. jamesf

    DFID budget pays for UK overseas territories, UK contributions to international peacekeeping, UK stabilisation costs (including those incurred by MOD) in places like Libya, Syria, Afghanistan. Are you suggesting we deploy UK forces as peacekeepers rather than contributing cash under our international treaty agreements? Or that St. Helena, Monserrat and the Falklands get independence?, or that we forget about trying to encourage stability in Afghanistan or South Sudan, or prevent radicalization in Pakistan.. India budget has been massively cut – its nominal now, just about retaining influence. The Daily Mail thinks aid is a left wing conspiracy. They are wrong. Its a component of power projection. The US, Germany, EU, Japan all have big aid budgets. Are they all left wing conspiracies too?

    That said, we must increase the defence budget in the coming SDSR so some re-balancing is in order. But DFID is not a wasted asset. It does much to sustain UK’s influence in the world, and ultimately our economy.

  16. Think Defence

    I still think there is vast room for efficiency in DFiD and a refocussing of objectives so that they align more with the UK’s national interest. A bit more hard nosed I think

    Back to the flooding issue, I can see the MoD playing a smart move here

    DFiD and the EA will be targeted, not the MoD

  17. Angus McLellan

    @TD: Phil covered DfID already and the £750 million that the EA get from DEFRA is chickenfeed. No, it will be the MoD. That’s where the money is.

  18. Chris

    Angus – to be brutal, in order of dep’t budgets, this is where the money is:
    1 Benefits (£160bn)
    2 NHS (£110bn)
    3 Education (£60bn)
    4 Debt Interest (£50bn)
    5 Tax Credits & Child Benefits (£45bn) (separated from the main Benefit budget)
    6 Defence (£40bn)…

    Putting tax credits & child allowance in with the other benefits (as you’d imagine they were supposed to be) the benefit budget exceeds £200bn every year. That’s a handout equivalent to £3,150 per year to every man, woman & child in the UK – I don’t get any of that so some b*****d is getting my share…

    You have to wonder where it all goes.

    In comparison the £40bn to defence is a mere trifle. Although as noted above its a trifle into which other departments will be trying to dig their spoons as deep as possible because its not a popular vote winner; we all know governments of all colours spend most on buying votes and hang the consequences.

    It would be of great interest to see how much of each department budget is wasted on grand nation-wide IT systems that don’t work. I recall NHS has tried three or four times over the past 20 odd years; each time a failure. MOD’s DII did eventually deliver IT equipment but not cheap and barely current. I’m not sure I see the value in these pan-department databases; I have survived quite well with my GP holding health data locally – why do I need a doctor 400 miles away to have full access to it? Just who benefits from all these broad-access data stores? Are any of them valuable to those with data held on them, or is it only the IT corporations that gain value from their often unreliable insecure database projects? Or the insurance companies that buy data from them? Or criminals that access data they shouldn’t be able to? So. First saving – kill off all the pointless pan-galactic database programmes.

    That should liberate a few billions for starters.

  19. TED

    Only one question. Does the MoD get paid for sending our assets on Humanitarian missions? If so how much?

  20. WiseApe

    “I don’t get any of that so some b*****d is getting my share…
    You have to wonder where it all goes.” – Amen to that.

  21. Gloomy Northern Boy

    The kind of work required to tackle natural disasters in the UK is the kind most likely to be used on a major expedition requiring the use of the Army Reserve…so the most imaginative approach available to the MOD is to argue to strengthen that and improve its availability to deal with civil contingencies…however better still would be to get the local authorities to rebuild the big blue-collar work-forces, they used to have, ideally at the expense of the endless contract managers and social engineers they now have!

    On DfID the aspiration enshrined in law is to reach a budget of 0.7% of GDP…perhaps we should petition Parliament to debate a Bill to the effect that Defence should by law never be less than 3xDfID and should ideally be 4xDfID; as rightly pointed out above, by comparison with all other budgets both are chicken feed…and as anyone who has ever worked closely and in a non-confrontational way with the many good people in the NHS will tell you, those people are embarrassed by the money they are allowed to waste…

    GNB

  22. Peter Elliott

    I take the slightly contrary view that the last 5 years of crash dieting has done our military industrial complex a power of good. Sacred cows have been slain. Purple thinking and VFM now pervade the decision making process. Long term financial planning is actually happening and seems to be working.

    The difficult part now is retaining that level of focus and dicipline while still building our capabilities back up. And probably the worst thing Hammond could do is set a % based target for defence expenditure, and then start shopping around for how to reach it. Snouts would be into troughs and the piggies would be squabbling over the division of the swill before you could blink.

    That doesn’t mean spending can’t rise. But the increase should be come from functional need first and foremost. Get the whiteboard filled up and the priorities hammered out before we even think of asking nos 10 and 11 Downing street for a penny of extra funding.

  23. Chris.B.

    “You have to wonder where it all goes”

    – Pensions mostly. About £6,000 a year is the maximum per person, which not every pensioner gets. Two other big chunks are tax credits and child benefit, which is effectively the equivalent of the government taking money off you with one hand and then giving it back to you with the other, while skimming a nice chunk off the top for “admin” in the process.

  24. dave haine

    I agree with Peter Elliott- the MOD is doing some sensible long-term financial planning, with built-in contingencies, and costed programmes. So, efficiently, in fact, that they’ve been able to bring forward a programme (crowsnest) and bring forward an aircraft introduction programme (A400M-swapping two earlier french slots).
    This in itself, IMO, will safeguard the MOD budget. You don’t grab money off an efficient budget, you go for a budget which has obvious ‘low-hanging fruit’.

    And they’re already eyeing up the benefits budget, anyway- I could see the ‘universal credit’ and the ‘single pension’ introduction being accelerated. The NHS has already started ripping out levels of management, so I suspect they’ll be handing back some cash too.

    And please can we attack the Environment Agency? There is an organisation, really going for the award. With only 30% of its workforce available for actual hands on work, and the rest, ostensibly, being available for emergencies, but somehow never being called out. Regional meetings, inexplicably, always being held at the nearest sports stadium, not at the regional office, etc…examples are legion and extensive.

  25. Chris

    Chris.B – interesting point you raise. According to the Guardian Nwepsaepr the UK Public Spending for 2011/12 included approx £75bn for State Pensions. Even assuming every pensioner gets the full £6000, that would add up to a population of pensionable age of 12.5 million, out of a total population (2012 numbers) of 63.23 million. Or if you prefer a population of pensionable age amounting to 20% of total population. Obviously as the numbers qualifying for the £6000 per year figure are less than 100%, the proportion of pensioners to total population must be greater than 20% – what then; 30%? Do we really have a third of the population on pensions?

    Let me answer – no we do not. Currently approximately 17% of the population is of pensionable age. Which suggests the pension budget is about 2x the expenditure – where does the other £35bn go then??

  26. martin

    Not that I am against the military being used for such emergency’s but my question would be where does it end. Civilian agencies like the EA and DFID fight for budgets against the MOD then expect the MOD to come to their rescue. What will happen the next time we have winter snow. Will we expect the MOD to grit the roads. What about overcrowding in hospitals? Will we expect the MOD medical staff to intervene setting up field hospitals to reduce A&E waiting times. The NHS has five times the manpower of the MOD but I did not see a single nurse or doctor drafted in to fill in Sandbags. There are probably some 200,000 civil servants in west London yet not one was taken out of their warm Westminster office and sent to Staines to fill a sand bag. Nor where there any teachers or other civil servants so one should ask the question why do we have this presumption that when sand bags need filled its squaddies that should be doing in and not the other 5 million public service workers.

    Sounds silly but I you look at FEMA in this USA it has the power to draft in all federal employees.

    I certainly think the MOD should be allowed to charge other agencies it works for and not just normal costs but large penalties but no doubt the Treasury would just take this money back anyway.

    One also has to think that maybe the MOD is missing out on an opportunity with the floods. If we had a decent reserve force then this would have been quite the recruitment opportunity but as with everything in the British Army only regulars are able to fill sand bags or tie their own show laces.

  27. Think Defence

    Martin, the MoD have just mobilised 500 reservists for flood defence support work

    Come on, you didnt think the MoD was going to miss an opportunity to demonstrate how valuable the Army Reserve is did you :)

    Absolutely fantastic point on mobilising civil servants, not thought of that angle but it is very true.

  28. Phil

    Let me answer – no we do not. Currently approximately 17% of the population is of pensionable age. Which suggests the pension budget is about 2x the expenditure – where does the other £35bn go then??

    No need to imagine figures. They’re all noted down.

    109 billion is spent on pensioner age benefits and credits which represents 7% of 2012/13 GDP. 79 billion is on the state pension itself which is by far the single biggest block of spending in the DWPs AME. The next biggest is Housing Benefit.

    By far the biggest elements of expenditure on welfare is pension and sickness / disability related benefits. JSA and income support make up a surprisingly small amount of the payments but this masks the fact that someone on JSA or Income Support can get much more in Housing Benefit than they do JSA or IS payments.

  29. Chris

    Phil – its not that the figures aren’t stated, but that using Chris.B’s limit of £6k per annum maximum and the 17% of 63million UK population that is of pensionable age, only £6,000×0.17×63,000,000 = £64bn could be spent on State Pension. Furthermore Chris states not all of pensionable age receive that maximum, I assumed 2/3 at full amount and 1/3 getting nothing (although its almost certainly a sliding scale in reality) but that guess brought my State Pension bill to £43bn. Out of the Government’s stated £79bn that leaves over £35bn with nowhere to go.

    Its possible there are many more on State Pension than are reported to be over pensionable age (unlikely) or that everyone gets the full £6k per year (unlikely but even then the budget is bigger than the cost). Most likely is that the remaining £35bn is the Government bill for administering the payout – £35bn of accounting and auditing and presentations and reports and investigations all to ensure no pensioner gets more than they are entitled to – £35bn spent to save a few thousands of overpayment – this is how governments save money, I presume.

  30. cassandra

    Chris – The attached link sets out costs of state pensions in detail:

    http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/pensions/pension-trends/chapter-5–state-pensions–2013-edition/art-ptch5-2013.html#tab-The-cost-of-state-pensions

    The key driver is longer life expectancy. See:

    http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/pensions/pension-trends/chapter-2–population-change–2012-edition-/sum-pt2012ch2.html

    This impacts not only on Pensions, but also on Social Security, NHS etc expenditure. Very hard for governments in a democracy to make meaningful cuts as we know. That is why I think it will become increasingly hard for defence expenditure % GDP to be maintained, barring an existential crisis. In particular, it means trying to maintain a credible and sustainable expeditionary stance, as well as an 80,000 man army, will be impossible.

    The question is, will SDSR 2015 wake up to this reality?

  31. martin

    @ Chris – Think that bill includes SERPS as well as S2P and basic state. The DWP employs around 100,000 civil servants if memory serves but this is to administer the entire system and in fact as there is little monitoring of state pensions compared to unemployment or disability I doubt admin costs are much.

    @ TD – Did not think they would miss a trick but 500 is a token at best.

    I wonder what Sir H will make of the suggestion of drafting in the civil servants, Might make a bit of a mess of those pin stripes :-)

  32. Phil

    Most likely is that the remaining £35bn is the Government bill for administering the payout – £35bn of accounting and auditing and presentations and reports and investigations all to ensure no pensioner gets more than they are entitled to – £35bn spent to save a few thousands of overpayment – this is how governments save money, I presume.

    There’s no not likely about it. DWP expenditure is made of annually managed expenditure (AME) and the usual departmental limit (the DEL). All benefit payouts come from AME. The actual administration costs fall on the DEL which is 8bn for the DWP (of which about 600million is given to local authorities to administer 25 billion of housing benefit).

    So the 35 billion “gap” being mentioned simply does not exist. Calculating payouts is a very complex task since everyones retirement pension payouts will be different and paid at different times and subject to a whole host of other factors.

    So it really did cost us 79 billion in state pension last year.

  33. Chris

    Phil – you seem to understand DEL/AME partitioning so that scuppers my theory. I still can’t make the figures line up though, so still can’t shake off the feeling of creative accounting at work. But without genuine numbers its just a suspicion.

  34. Phil

    For my sins I worked closely with the DWP for a number of years. The fact is benefit payments are insanely complex. State Pensions are one of the simplest but they are still complex as there’s 60 years of legislative changes still live in the rules.

    But there is a caseload of 12.8 million state pension claimants, or rather was in 2012/13. This includes SERPs, 2nd pension etc. The conclusion is that most people get the max amount of SRP and others get additional money from the additional pensions.

    There’s also 1.2 million people getting paid a pension who live outside the UK (mostly in Spain I imagine).

  35. Fluffy Thoughts

    HM Defence Forces should not partake in internal UK issues: Surely the lesson was learned at Peterloo? If the current state agencies wants to want [sp?] spending money on “niche-elements” and not ‘core-responsibilities’ then they should be held responsible to the public and Her auditors; those requirements should have no call on the Defence budget….

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