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SNP Ministers have claimed that Scotland is being hit disproportionately by cuts in defence jobs. This follows reports that the number of service personnel based in Scotland has fallen by 7.5% in the past year, according to the MOD statistics; in England the number of personnel was reduced by 2.5%, in Wales by 1.5%, and in Northern Ireland by 6.8%. It was claimed that since 2000 there has been a 35% drop in Scotland, compared with 20% across the UK as a whole. Nicola Sturgeon, the Scotland’s Deputy First Minister, said the MOD cuts were disproportionate, and that communities throughout Scotland which host military bases have been faced with prolonged uncertainty. Sturgeon said she has written to the Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond MP, asking for clarity on the sector’s future.
Meanwhile, Bernard Gray, the MOD’s Chief of Defence Materiel, has been criticised following reports that his expenses included £23,000 of hotel bills, and an official car and driver worth £49,000. The media have been keen to highlight the extent of Gray’s costs, particularly given his £220,000 per annum salary and the broader milieu of cuts to the MOD. Kevan Jones MP, Labour’s Shadow Defence Minister, called on Ministers to justify Gray’s expenses in light of cuts to front-line services in the department.
The following developments are covered in this week’s monitoring:
Written answer on Military Police training
Labour MP Madeleine Moon tabled a written question to the MOD asking how many members of the Royal Military Police have received specialist training to conduct Level 3 investigations, and special investigations. Defence Minister Mark Francois responded that within the Army, the investigation of serious crimes, previously known as Level 3, and special investigations are conducted by members of the Royal Military Police Special Investigation Branch. Francois added that information on the total number of those serving personnel who have received training to undertake this type of investigation is not held centrally. However the Minister confirmed that there are currently 202 regular Army personnel assigned to the Royal Military Police Special Investigation Branch, all of whom are qualified to conduct such investigations, through their attendance on the Serious Crime Investigation Course at the Defence College of Policing and Guarding.
MDP mentioned in articles on scrap metal theft in South Wales, and illegal driving on MOD land in Wiltshire
In an article of scrap metal theft, it was reported that following the introduction of new legislation, which required all scrap dealers to run a cashless system, the illegal trade in scrap metal has been targeted in a police operation. As part of this, the MDP joined forces with South Wales Police, South Wales Fire and Rescue and Trading Standards in co-ordinated raids across the country. This follows an increase in metal thefts across the UK with the MDP assisting with checking licensing and registration details of anyone suspected of criminality.
It was reported that a joint operation involving the MDP Neighbourhood Policing Teams, working with Wiltshire Police, was conducted to tackle the issue of vehicles illegally driving across the Defence Training Area on Salisbury Plain.
Sergeant Mark Venning, the MDP Senior Officer for Salisbury Plain, commented that the vast majority of Salisbury Plain is owned by the MOD and that it is regularly used for military exercises. He acknowledged that that the public are allowed access, and that vehicles are permitted, but only if they stick to the numerous marked byways and official tracks, and that they must be fully road legal including insurance. Venning also said that there is a safety issue due to Salisbury Plain being an operational military training environment. He added that 20,000 hectares of grassland on the Plain have been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conversation. The MDP officer concluded by saying that MOD land on Salisbury Plain is subject to a range of bylaws which are posted on all access points, and that these give the MDP powers of arrest for offences, and allow them to remove vehicles and other property if they are being misused.
MOD to receive majority of budget cuts
It has been reported that MOD spending will be hit harder than other government departments following funding reductions announced in the Autumn Statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne MP. Spending reductions across government departments, which have been introduced on top of previous austerity-driven cuts, were announced in response to predictions that GDP will slip by 0.1% in 2012, down from a forecast of 0.8% growth made at the time of the last budget.
This follows the announcement of cuts of £245 million and £490 million to the MOD resource budget, covering all areas of expenditure other than capital projects, for the years 2013-14 and 2014-15 respectively. These cuts represent resource budget reductions of 1% in 2013-14 and 2% in 2014-15.
Prior to the Autumn Statement, the MOD had published resource expenditure estimates of £24.9 billion and £24.7 billion for the fiscal years 2013-14 and 2014-15 respectively. The resource budget departmental expenditure limit for 2011-12 had been previously set at £25 billion. The MOD insists that the cuts later in this Parliament will be covered by its reserve funds, which HM Treasury has agreed to let the MOD use for that purpose. However, it is expected that the reserve funds cannot cover a new hole in Defence funding of £490 million every year between 2015 and 2020, which the Autumn Statement creates.
Conservative MPs have reacted to the further cuts, with former minister David Davis MP calling for no further cuts to frontline defence services. Backbencher Mark Pritchard MP added the Government had been given support, “albeit reluctantly”, for recent defence reductions, but that support won’t be guaranteed for any other cuts. Patrick Mercer MP, a former Defence Select Committee member and former Shadow Defence Minister, said that cuts should be made to overseas aid in order to sustain funding for frontline services such as defence.
Defence Secretary accused by Defence Select Committee of preventing access to defence facilities, and withholding information
Members of the Defence Select Committee, chaired by Conservative MP James Arbuthnot, have claimed that they have been prevented from visiting defence facilities, and denied information about the Armed Forces, in what they have described as a “clampdown” ordered by Ministers. Arbuthnot expressed concern that Defence Secretary Philip Hammond’s approach would be harmful and undermine public confidence in the Armed Forces.
Arbuthnot stated that one member of the Defence Select Committee had been told he could not visit a MOD site, as he was not given permission by the MP whose constituency covered the base. This follows revelations from the Defence Committee chair that on Hammond’s orders, the information made available to Parliament about defence has been seriously restricted. Arbuthnot described the moves as a misuse of Parliamentary protocol by the MOD. In response, the MOD stated that no new rules or clampdown have been introduced, clarifying that it is incorrect to think constituency MPs have to give permission, adding that Parliamentary convention requires that MPs are informed if a fellow MP visits their constituency.
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