UK DEFENCE SPENDING MUST NOT ONLY BE PRIORITISED BUT INCREASED
By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.
04 Nov 14. Suggestions in recent weeks that HM Treasury is pressurising for a further 7.7% cut in defence spending over the five year period 2016-2021 would, if correct, be at complete odds with clear need to increase spending on defence and the unambiguous promise from the Prime Minister, David Cameron, made at the time SDSR 2010 defence cuts were announced, that real time spending on defence would rise by 1% annually through the following 2016-2021 period.
On current expectations from a total 2015 UK public spending budget of £731bn spending on defence will total £45.6bn. Contrast this with spending by other government departments – £150bn on pensions, £133bn on healthcare, £90bn on education £90bn, £110bn on welfare and you will see that defence now comes way down the list. Put another way would be to say that while health, pensions, welfare and education mop up a total 65% of all public expenditure the 35% of rest that includes Defence, Justice, Transport, Trade and Industry, Administration, Culture, Environment, Housing, Environment, Overseas Aid together with the £8.6bn net contribution (£17.1bn gross – exclusive of the requested extra £1.7bn) that we pay to the EU together plus also, an anticipated £52bn interest cost of servicing the national debt.
To think that we spend less on defence today than on servicing the national debt is frightening enough but when we look at how spending on health has spiralled out of control (this has all but doubled since 1997) makes a very bad situation look very much worse.
Back in March this year the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne told us that spending on welfare will be capped at £119.5bn in 2015/16. But, even without any real increase being allowed which I find at odds with what is being said in other corridors of power, when inflation is added we may expect that health spending will actually rise to as much as £126bn over the following five years. This is ridiculous as it is unaffordable.
We can all understand and support the need to balance the nations’ books and I genuinely commend the Chancellor of the Exchequer for what he has so far managed to achieve in halving the annual amount of government deficit. But I cannot accept that having already paired UK defence spending to the bone that, in an increasingly uncertain and dangerous geo-political world, be thoughts anywhere in the Whitehall compound that dares to believe we should be talking about cutting spending on defence further. Cut welfare, cut health and cut a number of other segments of public spending but the reality of what is going on in the outside world is that we and others need to spend more rather than less on defence.
Of course I can and do accept that there is always room to achieve greater efficiency in any government department and defence is no exception. Defence procurement is one such area that much attention is being spent to ensure that it is made more efficient. I am in no doubt that there is room to reduce the number of civil servants in defence and that more aspects of defence could if necessary be privatised.
A tremendous amount of good work and effort has been put in since SDSR 2010 to achieve greater efficiency of operation within the armed forces. The service chiefs are now responsible for their own budgets and the defence spend process is not only accountable it is fully transparent as well. Operational changes in how capability is managed, directed and used have brought benefits too and I include in this the standing up of Joint Forces Command in 2012. Cynics may like to lambast ‘Jointery’ but as I watch defence change I am in little doubt that there is great advantages to be had across our armed forces by their working more closely together wherever possible.
Industry is doing its bit too and one look at the improvements and greater effic