So, a degree more common sense has at long last prevailed within the Treasury and Cabinet Office meaning that Secretary of State for Defence, Gavin Williamson has now at least part-won a very hard fought out battle and argument in order to win extra funding for defence. Well done to him!
Coming on top of the extra £0.8 billion (this had earlier been allocated from contingency reserves) to be spent on the Dreadnought Nuclear Deterrent capability replacement programme, the additional £1 billion increase announced by Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond yesterday is both timely and welcome. The defence budget allocation for the current year is now £36.6 billion of which without analysing further means that around 15.6% is allocated as equipment procurement and 18.7% support – the rest being allocated for armed forces operation.
Given increasing sensitivities surrounding defence and the changing nature of threats, I was not that surprised when I learned that the increase would be £1 billion rather than the £0.5 billion that press and media had widely speculated. An additional £160 million allocated for counter terrorism spending is also to be welcomed as also is the £10 million allocation of funds to meet veteran mental health needs.
It is of course all too easy for the pack of so-called armchair defence experts to criticise the £1 billion increase announced yesterday as still not being enough but I for one am not about to join them.
We should be grateful for what we have received from a Chancellor of Exchequer who was himself a former Secretary of State for Defence and who as we knew him back then as (Forensic Phil) clearly did not believe that money allocated for defence was being well spent.
Never a master of politics, yesterday we saw a very different Philip Hammond to the one that some of us remember telling the House of Commons Defence Select Committee in woeful tones on October 9th 2013 that “public appetite for expeditionary warfare is pretty low and that based on the experience of ten years in Iraq and Afghanistan, it would be realistic to say that “I would not expect, except in the most extreme circumstances, a manifestation of great appetite for plunging [our military] into a prolonged period of expeditionary warfare any time soon”. Mr. Hammond then went on to say that “it would take several years before politicians and military leaders could start to rebuild public support for military operations abroad although he did accept that “unexpected events can and do act to very quickly transform public opinion”. He also suggested that the military would need to face up to further structural cuts.
Like it or not though, whatever the military view might be at any one point in time, until and if the enemy is at the door, defence will in my view remain a political choice and to that end, it must be both affordable and, in respect of how we spend what we do on defence, fully transparent.
That is not to suggest that I do not believe that we need to radically rethink our attitude to defence spending over the next few years and indeed, agree to spend more on defence where it is required – if we are to achieve the ambition of increased global presence and the various other objectives that we have set ourselves not to mention continuing to play the vital role that we do within NATO. Far from it but at this difficult stage in the Brexit negotiation process, it is wise to be cautious in respect of demands and be grateful for every little received. We should take care of course not to kid ourselves that we can be everywhere and all places at once.
Even so, for Gavin Williamson who as I say, has genuinely battled hard with the Cabinet Office and Treasury, the increased funding for defence now allocated by the Treasury is a great feather in his cap. Thank you and to him again I am bound to also say, please don’t stop now.
Yesterday’s increase in 2018/19 defence budget allocation has effectively been allocated to be spent on Cyber, anti-submarine warfare (Type 26) and the Dreadnought continuous-at-sea nuclear deterrent submarine programme. However, there is clearly a spill over effect of this which includes money being spent on Type 26, the P-8 Poseidon Maritime Patrol Aircraft and also the fitting of Crowsnest radar to a proportion of Royal Navy Merlin helicopters. I believe that it also brings nearer the reality of the Type 31 General Purpose Frigate.
The Government already had a commitment made in 2015 to increase the defence budget by 0.5% per annum in each year until 2020. In respect of total allocation of 2019/20 public sector spending, the £52 billion allocated for defence (this includes MOD, Foreign Office and Aid Programmes and previously stood at £48 billion) accounts for approximately one third that of Health (£166 billion). For interest purposes, what is today defined as Social Protection (Welfare) stands at £256 billion, Social Service £34 billion, EU and other transaction costs £58 billion, net debt interest payments £43 billion, Education £103 billion, Transport £37 billion, Housing and environment £32 billion and finally, industry, agriculture and employment £25 billion.
As with all defence budget allocations, the devil is always in the detail and I can be in little doubt that at some stage there will be a sting in the tail. That said, in the wake of the Modernising Defence Programmes (MDP) Review process I see this as a clear win not only for Mr. Williamson and his team at the MOD but importantly, for UK defence as a whole.
On the latter score and my having previously suggested that MDP was probably dead in the water, given that Chancellor Hammond has announced a comprehensive spending review that when completed will impact on all sections of government spend next year, I would venture to suggest now that a touch more life has been breathed back into MDP for a likely announcement from Mr. Williamson in late November/early December.
One take away in regard of defence is that there is no suggestion of lack of continuing commitment to any of the existing procurement programmes or plans. That, if true and sustainable, is good news. The effective £1.8 billion increase in defence spend has been allocated to cover both this year and next.
For the record and because I have this to hand as opposed to later versions, planned expenditure on equipment and support covering the 2016 – 2026 period had been put at £178 billion of which submarines at £44 billion was by far the largest, surface ships coming a close second at £19 billion, Combat Air £18 billon and Air Support £16.6 billion. Spending allocations for Helicopters was £10.6 billion, Weapons £13.5 billion, Land equipment £19.1 billion and ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition & Reconnaissance £4.6 billion.
CHW (London 30th October 2018)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd
M: +44 7710 779785