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By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.

19 Mar 12. Given that Parliament will rise for the Easter recess on March 27th and that the April 16th return date will coincide with the beginning of the three week long local election purdah it is generally expected that the Secretary of State for Defence will announce long awaited details of the PR12 settlement a week from now on Monday the 26th January.

‘PR’ – A Term That In This Case Flatters To Deceive

In MoD speak the term ‘PR’ or ‘Planning Round’ is used to describe the annual budget settlement process. Apart from being an attempt to balance the annual MoD budget the underlying objective from both government and military perspective is that the settlement process will prioritise, optimise and decide spending options together with which capability and equipment elements will be funded that year. The annual ‘Planning Round’ settlement can for the various parties involved be a virtual feast of heated argument and debate between all the various parties concerned. In the past agreeing priorities of spend has frequently been known to cause friction between the three armed forces chiefs. Given the questionable manner that UK governments now decide defence strategy and policy fundamental disagreements between the three armed forces on budget priorities and requirement is likely to be an ongoing part of defence debate process.

However, it must be said that commitment of all three armed forces chiefs and their respective teams of senior officers with regard to delivery of what is finally agreed has and never will be questioned. Hard though it has been over the past year for the Chief of the Air Staff and First Sea Lord to oversee such large scale cuts in manpower and front line force capability at the same time as playing a significant role in the NATO led mission in Libya, maintaining the larger call of UK defence needs and the full NATO requirement the primary part of the task that government set them as a result of SDSR 2010 has now been achieved.

Parallel to decisions relating to the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) the Government also implemented a range of structural and organisational reforms at the MoD. Amongst the many ‘Defence Reform’ recommendations already implemented one has been that each of the three service chiefs would in future be responsible and accountable for their own individual budgets. In the direct wake of SDSR last years’ PR11 settlement process was to be the cause of much serious disagreement and angst among the three service chiefs.

Both in theory and practice the ‘Planning Round’ settlement process is supposed to be a review that ensures commitment will match agreed financial resources. It has not always been that way of course and despite the natural loathing than many of us had for SDSR there is no doubt that the government was obliged to get to grips with an unacceptable £38bn black hole in defence spend. The ‘Planning Round’ settlement process does attempt to formulate defence policy and strategy of course, that process being reserved and defined these days through a combinations of factors that include personal involvement of the Prime Minister, Cabinet Office, Treasury and the National Security Council.

In the wake of the 2010 SDSR the most dramatic change in terms of release of front line defence assets fell into the PR11 settlement whilst manpower and other significant changes to the defence portfolio would be spread over the following three years. There can though be little doubt that SDSR struck particularly hard on Royal Air Force and Royal Navy equipment and front line force capability and that the accusations that the government went too far in cutting UK defence capability are well founded. In the seventeen months that followed the SDSR announcement large scale change in manpower and as

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