This week’s main security and defence news has been the continuing reports of the funding crisis facing the MoD. The Telegraph reports that the Government’s plan to cut thousands of civil servants to help fill a black hole in the defence budget has apparently stalled. The MoD planned to cut civil servant numbers by 30% as part of the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), but has so far made little progress. Official figures show the MoD had 56,860 civilian personnel when the SDSR announced it would “reduce the number of civilians employed by the MoD by almost 30 per cent”, by 2020. It said the cut would bring levels to around 41,000. Almost two years later it still has 56,690 civilian employees.
Industry and union sources said there was debate in the MoD over whether to drop the target quietly. A senior union source told the newspaper that internal studies had found the target cuts were “undeliverable” and civilian workers could either not be replaced, or the cost of outsourcing would wipe out savings. An MOD spokesman said: “We have already reduced our civilian workforce by 28,500 since 2010, and remain committed to a further 30 per cent reduction by 2020, as outlined in SDSR 2015.”
Meanwhile, The Times reports that the PwC has estimated that the defence budget black hole could reach £30bn over the next decade. Roland Sonnenberg, who heads defence consultancy at PwC, said: “UK defence is entering a difficult period; perhaps one of the most challenging periods in a generation, at a time when ambition within our Armed Forces shows no sign of abating.” Experts say that the funding shortfall has been caused in part by over-optimistic estimates for the cost of acquiring and supporting programmes such as the navy’s new aircraft carriers.
The MDP falls under the intended cuts to the MoD civil service, so it is encouraging that plans for further personnel may be scaled back due to the realisation that it would not be possible to deliver them in an acceptable form. The DPF has made clear to the MoD that MDP officers represent excellent value for money given the spectrum of capabilities they can provide for both facilities protection and in counterterrorism contingencies. The DPF will be engaging with the review of the SDSR that is currently being led by the Cabinet Office to ensure the MDP’s capabilities are recognised.
· UK considering extra checks for van hire to deter terrorist attacks
· Met to increase spending on firearms
· Claims made over nuclear convoy safety assessments
· Faslane worker caught with stun gun avoids prison
· Report that Government ‘hiding evidence’ over Brexit terror risk
· UK terrorism threat ‘increased by ISIS losses’, claims minister
· ‘Scrap terror laws’, says independent reviewer
· Warning that London faces the loss of 4,000 police
· Report calls for dismissal of police with poor IT skills
· 600% increase in terrorism tip-off calls
UK considering extra checks for van hire to deter terrorist attacks
The Guardian reports that drivers trying to rent vans in the UK could be subject to additional checks to try to prevent further terrorist attacks of the kind seen in Barcelona last week. The Government, police and vehicle rental industry have been discussing ways to deter further attacks using vans since mass casualties were inflicted incidents across Europe from Nice to London. One measure under discussion is whether customers could be cross-checked immediately by police against terrorist watch lists before hiring a vehicle.
Rental firms are usually unwilling to hire out large trucks to new customers who do not have a business account. The terrorists who carried out the London Bridge attacks in June had unsuccessfully attempted to hire a 7.5-tonne vehicle. But anyone with a UK driving licence can normally hire a transit van or vehicle up to 3.5 tonnes. A Government spokeswoman said: “The threat from terrorism is changing and so must our response. That is why we are reviewing our counter-terrorism strategy and powers and why we have ploughed extra resources into counter-terrorism.”
Met to increase spending on firearms
The Times reports that the Met Police’s spending on weapons and ammunition increased almost six-fold last year. The Force spent £9.4 million on guns, bullets, Tasers and smoke and stun grenades in the year to March compared with about £1.6 million over the previous 12 months.
A significant amount of the money is thought to have been spent on training costs, with a Scotland Yard spokesperson telling the newspaper that “The Met is on track to meet the plan to complete an uplift of 600 firearms officers by April next year.” The effort is part of a wider national drive to increase the number of armed Home Office officers to 6,000 – a figure last reached in 2010.
Claims made over nuclear convoy safety assessments
The Herald reports that Scotland is “wholly unprepared” to deal with an accident or an attack on the nuclear weapon convoys that regularly travel across the country, as local authorities have breached their legal duty to safeguard the public by failing to assess and warn of the dangers. The claim comes in a report by a pressure group. Nukewatch UK believes that councils are failing to comply with their duties under the 2004 Civil Contingencies Scotland Act. This obliges councils to conduct risk assessments of identifiable threats to public safety, and tell people of the dangers.
Councils, however, insist they complied with civil contingencies law, and had assessed chemical, biological and radioactive hazards. “Scotland’s councils take their community safety responsibility very seriously indeed,” said a spokesman for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. The MoD dismissed the Nukewatch report as “highly speculative and scaremongering”.
Nukewatch UK is an anti-nuclear campaign group. That they have focused on the legal obligations of local authorities to conduct risk assessments as opposed to the convoys themselves reflects the robust nature of the MDP-led security provided to the transport of nuclear material.
Faslane worker caught with stun gun avoids prison
The Daily Record reports that a subcontractor caught with a stun gun while working at Faslane has escaped a jail sentence. Martyn Galloway was told he faced up to five years in prison for his crime when he appeared at Dumbarton Sheriff Court last week. Sheriff Maxwell Hendry told him it was of “extreme grave concern” that he had been found with such a weapon at a nuclear base. But he ruled that there were exceptional circumstances and handed him 200 hours of unpaid work in the community instead.
The court heard that the stun gun was discovered by MDP officers during a random search of his van. Mr Galloway’s lawyer said: “He was unaware when he was stopped that the item was in his vehicle”, adding “It was in a case at the bottom of a toolbox and that box was within a storage box.” Sheriff Hendry said “I have given this matter careful thought. I’ve decided that, given your age and your record, and given the circumstances the item was discovered, there is an alternative to prison.”
This incident once again demonstrates the value of the flexible and pro-active security the MDP provides.
Report that Government ‘hiding evidence’ over Brexit terror risk
The Times reports that the Home Office created an unpublished document that extensively revealed how Britons could be facing a heightened risk of terrorism after Brexit. The paper was drawn up with help from M15 and M16 officials who warned that leaving the EU would potentially make the UK less secure from threats of “terrorism, criminality and illegal migration”. The 49-page document was written in the run-up to the referendum last year, but was never published after it was dropped in a row over campaign tactics.
The report states that “Co-operation with EU countries would continue if the UK were to leave the EU. But none of the tools for co-operation EU countries have available with countries outside the EU match the speed, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness of the tools that are available for co-operation between EU members. Specifically, it highlighted the Schengen Information System (SIS), a database that provides law enforcement alerts on wanted criminals and stated that it has “significant public protection benefits”.
UK terrorism threat ‘increased by ISIS losses’, claims minister
The BBC reports that the UK terror threat is increasing as so-called Islamic State loses territory in Syria and Iraq, the security minister has said. Ben Wallace MP said extremists were trying to carry out attacks in the UK because they were either unable to join ISIS overseas or had returned from there.
The security minister also said it was vital for people to engage with the Government's anti-terrorism programme, Prevent, which aims to stop people from becoming radicalised. But he said he disagreed with comments from the police lead for Prevent who said the programme should be compulsory.
‘Scrap terror laws’, says independent reviewer
The Independent reports that the Government should consider abolishing all anti-terror laws as they are “unnecessary” in the fight against extremists, the barrister tasked with reviewing Britain’s terrorism legislation has said. Max Hill QC, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, argued potential jihadis can be stopped with existing “general” laws that are not always being used effectively to take threats off the streets.
Mr Hill said that he will consider any new legislation recommended by the Home Office’s ongoing review of its response to this year’s attacks but believes that Britain cannot “legislate its way out of” the threat from returning ISIS fighters and home-grown extremists. He also expressed concern over the threat to civil liberties posed by some proposed anti-terror measures, warning laws aimed at tackling hate preachers could easily veer into the territory of “thought crime”.
There is an ongoing debate as to whether the challenged presented by ISIS is best addressed by new resources or legislation. The Government has been keen to stress the latter – in part because it is the cheaper option.
Warning that London faces the loss of 4,000 police
The Evening Standard reports that Sadiq Khan has warned the capital faces losing up to 4,000 police officers at a time of “unprecedented threat” in the wake of the Barcelona terror attack. The London Mayor has claimed £400m in Government cuts will force him into measures that could endanger the safety of residents. In a leaked letter to Home Secretary Amber Rudd, Mr Khan wrote: “Without urgent government action, it is inevitable that in the next year a process of significant and sustained reduction in officer head count will have to begin.”
The Home Office responded by stating London had “more money and more officers … than anywhere else in the country”.
Report calls for dismissal of police with poor IT skills
The Daily Telegraph reports that a new report from the think-tank Reform has suggested that police chiefs should be allowed to fire officers whose IT skills are not up to scratch. The report said: “Senior managers, officers and staff argued that the ability to fire officers without the necessary skills would allow chiefs to get the skill base to meet digital demand and shift culture.” In 2012 a major review of police pay and conditions recommended the introduction of a system of compulsory severance. But the proposal was not taken forward, meaning officers kept the right to a job for life.
The report also called for the recruitment of 12,000 IT volunteers to help in the fight against cybercrime, and said the government should invest an extra £450 million in police technology.
Reports such as this are in part designed to be provocative, and there is no realistic chance of the Government adopting a policy that would allow for the removal of officers based purely on their IT competency.
600% increase in terrorism tip-off calls
The Independent reports that counterterrorism agencies have registered a dramatic surge in tip-offs after Britain was following the recent attacks in London and Manchester. Calls to a dedicated police hotline rose by more than 600% over six months. Reports peaked in June, when the London Bridge and Finsbury Park attacks took place, with the service receiving 5,703 calls. This compared to 748 in January and 764 in February, and a monthly average of around 1,800 from January to June.
Hannah Stuart, co-head of the security and extremism unit at think tank Policy Exchange, said it was not surprising that rises in the number of calls correspond to recent terrorist attacks. She added: “Community-based intelligence is vital in tackling terrorism and in some cases has successfully prevented imminent attacks.”
Defence Secretary issues apology to soldiers’ family over snatch Land Rover
The Guardian reports that the Defence Secretary has apologised to families of British soldiers killed while travelling in Snatch Land Rovers for delays in replacing the lightly armoured vehicles. In the letter to families Michael Fallon said bringing better protected vehicles into service could have saved lives. Last year the Chilcot inquiry found a string of MoD failings in the preparation for the Iraq War, including a delay in replacing the lightly armoured Snatch Land Rovers, which are vulnerable to bombs. A number of families have been given the go-ahead to bring compensation claims against the Government under legislation covering negligence and human rights.
An MoD spokeswoman said: “We offer our deepest sympathies and apologise for the delay in bringing into service alternative protected vehicles which could have saved lives. The government acknowledges and fully accepts the findings of Sir John Chilcot’s inquiry in relation to Snatch Land Rovers.”