The Daily Telegraph reports that Defence Minister Mark Francois MP has warned that public support for the Armed Forces could “fade” after British troops withdraw from Afghanistan. In an interview with The House magazine, Mr Francois said there was currently “tremendous support” for the Armed Forces, comparing the level of support to the middle of the Falklands War in 1982. However, he warned that when troops withdraw from Afghanistan at the end of next year, this positive profile may start to wane.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond MP said last month that the costly campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan have put voters off foreign operations, meaning the Armed Forces will not enter in to significant military operations “any time soon”. Hammond even compared Britain’s attitude with that of the US public following the Vietnam War, when America undertook a “clear disengagement” from international affairs.
Oral defence questions on the reserve forces and Trident
- During the oral questions session on Defence, Labour MP Ian Lavery asked the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment he has made of the level of recruitment to the reserve forces in 2013 to date.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond MP said that when the previous administration took office in 1997, the Territorial Army was more than 50,000 strong and by 2010, this figure had halved. Mr Hammond said that recruitment figures for the first three quarters of 2013 are due to be published by Defence Analytical Services and Advice on 14 November. Hammond added that this is a new data series, and quarterly figures will be published thereafter.
- Conservative MP Dr Julian Lewis asked the Defence Secretary what assessment he had made of the conclusions and utility of the Trident alternatives study
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond MP responded that the review demonstrated that no alternative is as capable as a Trident-based deterrent.
Serco and G4S are rival bidders to the defence procurement contracts
Reuters has reported that Britain’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has opened a criminal investigation into G4S and Serco’s electronic monitoring contracts. The SFO investigators will now decide whether to take the companies to court after an audit showed that, under a 2005 government contract, they charged for tagging criminals who were either dead, in prison or had never been tagged. Reuters says that the investigation could ultimately lead to fines or prosecution, and neither G4S nor Serco can win further British government work until the completion of a second investigation by the Cabinet Office into every deal it has with the companies worth more than £10 million. The result of that investigation is expected by the end of November.
The Shadow Justice Secretary, Labour's Sadiq Khan, said that the government should not allow G4S to win any further contracts until the SFO has completed its investigation – a process that can take years in some cases.
MOD faces fresh inquiry from Public account committee over aircraft carriers
The Financial Times reports that Ministers are facing a fresh inquiry into the MOD’s handling of the Royal Navy’s aircraft carrier programme, after it emerged the two ships would cost at lead to £800 million more than previously expected. The budget rise is to be announced this week by Defence Secretary Philip Hammond and comes a year after the MOD decided to reverse a decision on the Jet Fighter variant for the carriers, incurring an additional cost on the budget. The aircraft carrier project, originally budgeted at £3.7 billion in 2007, will now come in at £6.2 billion. Critics say much of the blame of the latest increase rests with the coalition government’s indecision over the aircraft.
Labour MP Margaret Hodge said the news was “deeply depressing” and told the Financial Times that the Public Accounts Committee would hold another inquiry into the scheme – the fourth since it started in 2007. Defence officials say the latest cost increases have come about because Labour did not admit how expensive the project was likely to be and because contracts agreed with industry failed to provide strong incentives for keeping within budget. Revised terms will be announced this week that force contractors to shoulder a bigger share of any further cost overruns.
Malcolm Chalmers, director at the Royal United Service think-tank said there were questions for the MOD over whether it used a “robust estimate” to judge the costs of the rival options. The FT says that Hammond’s admission that the carriers will cost an extra £800 million will add to his case that the MOD cannot be trusted to conduct its own procurement. Chalmers said that the revelation “strengthens the Government’s conclusions about procurement, but it does not strengthen its solution”
The latest cost estimate has been agreed with BAE, and as part of the agreement, BAE will pay for half of future increase in the project – which the FT says is a “tacit admission” that future rises are likely. The FT says this news could be the “heaviest damage” to Hammond’s political reputation, having billed himself as a former accountant who has restored fiscal probity to the MOD after years of badly run procurement.
Portsmouth shipbuilding loses out to Scottish shipyards in BAE redundancies
The Financial Times reports that thousands of jobs in the Scottish shipbuilding industry would be at risk if Scotland votes to become independent next year. This week, Defence Ministers announced that Portsmouth shipbuilding yard was to close after some eight hundred-years of shipbuilding history, with 940 job losses. The FT says the move was taken to protect jobs at the Clyde naval base. BAE announced on Wednesday that it would be cutting 1,775 jobs across the UK as the company outlines its future after the construction of the UK’s two aircraft carriers.
The company is to focus operations at Govan and Scotstoun in Glasgow, where they plan to build the next generation of navy frigates. However, ministers warned that the contract to build those ships might not go to Clyde if Scotland votes for Independence. The Prime Minister said, “If there was an independent Scotland we would not have any warships at all”
The FT says that the comments were widely seen as a harbinger of how the argument over Scotland’s independence referendum will increasingly intrude on politics in the countdown to the vote. However, the FT also mentions that “despite the political rhetoric”, the decision to close Portsmouth was largely made for commercial reasons and is another staging post in the steady decline of Britain’s shipbuilding industry and its naval presence. With no plans to build further ships on the Scale of the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers, the Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said that Britain could now sustain only one main shipbuilding yard.
Hammond dismisses suggestion that information is increasingly suppressed within MOD
In an interview with Conservative Home, the Defence Secretary dismissed the charge that he has enforced a secretive culture within his department which leaves people with an interest in defence unable to find out what is going on. In an interview with The House magazine, James Arbuthnot MP, Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, says that Hammond has “clamped down on discussions between politicians and journalists, on the one hand, and the military and MOD on the other hand. I think that is a mistake”.
Arbuthnot, Conservative MP for North-East Hampshire and a former Defence Minister, says that the suppression of information in the MOD has got “substantially worse” since the summer of 2012, when he first attacked Hammond for being secretive.
Hammond has insisted that within the department, senior officers are free to speak out. He mentions the activity of the Armed Forces Committee which sits at the very top of the departmental structure, from which the Chief of Defence Staff brings the military’s view direct to the Defence Board and to the Permanent Secretary. Conservative Home says that for Mr Hammond, the moment when everyone has to start saying the same thing is once policy has been made.
Speaking on recruitment, Mr Hammond said although he didn’t think the task would be easy, he thinks “it’s going to be all right”. He adds that in a population of 63 million people, “Simple maths tells me that must be deliverable”. Mr Hammond also said that difficulties with the IT platform and people’s different personal agendas were encouraging dates about the Army Reserve.
Public support Armed Forces to become “go-to people” for national crises
The Times reports that the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Nicholas Houghton, wants to expand the reach of the Armed Forces so that the military become the “go-to people” whenever there is a national crisis. The Times says this could include anything from firefighter strikes or foot-and-mouth disease, as well as ensuring the country is kept safe from Islamist terrorism by training the security forces of vulnerable states in Africa and elsewhere. The newspaper adds that Houghton’s vision would move the Armed Forces away from the shadow of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Instead of the scale of domestic training which troops currently embark on, the Armed Forces would conduct small overseas training mission. This would go alongside activities on the home front, which General Houghton hopes would demonstrate the need to spend more on defence rather than implement further cuts. The Times says that the next big task is overseeing what could be a “difficult exit” from Helmand; the newspaper says that General Houghton will also be pressed to explain how the mission is a success.