Defence Secretary Liam Fox defends armed forces cuts

Forces minister Nick Harvey says they have to try and bring the defence budget into balance

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Cuts being made to the armed forces will mean Britain's defence capability can grow later in the decade, Defence Secretary Liam Fox has said.

He was speaking on the day 930 RAF and 920 Army personnel are being told they are being made redundant - including 750 compulsory redundancies.

The Army and RAF will eventually cut 7,000 and 5,000 posts respectively.

Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy said the cuts went too far and were the result of a rushed defence review.

But Mr Fox blamed the "incompetence" of the Labour government for the cuts and said the UK would still have strong forces.

He said: "The extra money we have allocated for the equipment budget from 2015 will allow our defence capability to grow in the second half of the decade."

He said the previous Labour government "left the nation's finances broken" and a "£38bn black hole" in the defence budget.

Armed forces' cuts

  • Army: 920 redundancies rising to 7,000 out of 100,000
  • RAF: 930 redundancies rising to 5,000 out of 40,000

The tough measures would bring the budget largely into balance for the first time in a generation, he said.

"Of course redundancies are always sad news, but we will continue to have strong and capable forces and we appreciate the hard work of our brave armed forces," said Mr Fox.

'Free of conscience'

The MoD is looking to shed 22,000 posts over the next four years - more than half through redundancies.

The Army employs just over 100,000 service personnel while the RAF has 40,000.

The MoD has said personnel receiving the operational allowance, because they are serving in Libya and Afghanistan or are preparing for, or have recently returned from operations, will be exempt from the cuts unless they apply.

Analysis

There have been plenty of volunteers for the first round of redundancies - particularly in the Army. But not all have been accepted. The real heartache will be for those being forced to take redundancy, who didn't want to leave. The Gurkhas and RAF are feeling more of that pain.

The government is anxious to avoid red faces - stating that no frontline soldiers in the Army currently serving in Afghanistan, or about to be deployed there will be forced to go. A source at the MoD has also told the BBC that ground crews and pilots involved in operations over Libya will not be made to go - though that's not quite a guarantee. And of course those saved from the cuts this time, could be included next time round.

Liam Fox admits that it's a "sad day", though quickly points the finger of blame at the last Labour government. He insists that at the end of this process the Army will be fit to fight the wars of the future. Though Labour's Jim Murphy questions that assumption.

The impact of these cuts on the state of morale may also be hard to gauge. Clearly there will be many military families left facing an uncertain future with anger as well as sadness. But we've been told that all those affected by these cuts have been ordered to keep quiet and not talk to the media.

And the BBC has been told that no RAF pilots or ground crew involved in operations over Libya will be forced to leave in this round of redundancies.

Armed Forces Minister Nick Harvey told BBC Breakfast: "I have put the question inside the ministry (of defence) and I have been told that nobody currently involved in the Libyan operations on the RAF will find themselves being made compulsorily redundant.

"It is possible that one or two of them may have volunteered, in which case they may or may not depending whether they are people we think we can spare."

But Mr Murphy said: "They say it isn't through choice, but the government has decided to cut the deficit as quickly as it has, and this is a consequence of a deficit reduction plan that's going too far and a defence review that went far too quickly."

He said the deficit could be reduced more carefully in a way that did not leave the UK without an aircraft carrier, a decision which had left "people across the world scratching their heads".

He added: "I think that it's a politics and policy free of conscience and free of right and wrong and that's the type of thing that's absolutely ludicrous."

Former head of the Army Gen Sir Mike Jackson told the BBC's News Channel he was concerned about the impact the cuts would have on Britain's future military capability.

"The defence review laid out a force structure to be achieved by 2020. Between now and then there are some risks being taken, in my view," Sir Mike said. "For example, we will not have a carrier strike capability for the next eight/nine years or so."

He said getting resources and commitments into balance would likely be "quite a challenge".

"I'm assured that the arithmetic will balance out in terms of manpower and commitments but of course we live in an uncertain world, no-one forecast, for example, the commitment to Libya which has taken place over the last few months and there will be other unforeseen eventualities I have no doubt."

Conservative MP and former Army colonel, Patrick Mercer, agreed the cuts were going too far.

Gurkha cuts

"We've never needed our combat forces more than we need them at the moment. The future is extremely uncertain," he said.

Jim Murphy: "This has got very long term consequences for our country"

In the Army, 870 soldiers volunteered for redundancy, but only 660 have been accepted.

Director of manning for the Army, Brigadier Richard Nugee, told the BBC there were some areas of the Army - such as full colonels - where there had been a greater number of applications for redundancy than expected.

"But there were a lot of areas in the Army where we didn't have enough applicants and we had to take non-applicants and so it varied by different parts of the Army," he said.

Brig Nugee said while it might have been easier to make redundant all those that had volunteered it might not have been the right thing to do operationally.

Start Quote

I don't believe Mr Cameron and those involved in making the decision to cut the Armed Forces are fully aware of the true cost and impact that the stroke of their pens will have on those who have served them so proudly”

End Quote Wife of an active serviceman

More than half of 260 compulsory redundancies - 150 - will be Gurkhas.

In the RAF there were 620 applications for redundancy, 440 of them have been approved. The Royal Navy will announce details of its redundancies later this month.

Members of the armed forces accepted for voluntary redundancy will serve six months' notice, while those forced out will serve a year.

Gurkha Justice Campaign founder Peter Carroll strongly criticised the redundancies, calling them "short-sighted" and said it risked "undermining the 200-year history between Britain and Nepal."

"It is particularly unfair that such a large number of Gurkhas are going against their own wishes. These are people who, as individuals, have given many years of loyal service to the UK," he said.

Eviction

Servicemen and women and their families have been contacting the BBC with their reaction.

One person who works at RAF Lossiemouth said a huge split had occurred in the air force between those who wish to leave and those who are being forced.

They said the MoD was forcing people out of their jobs by refusing to renew the contracts of those whose original nine-year contract had come to an end, a decision which was "more disgusting than voluntary redundancies".

The wife of a serviceman whose active service has seen him deployed to Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan, said: "On the final day of service all those made redundant will not only be unemployed, many with no transferable skills, but they also then have only three months in their homes before facing eviction.

"I don't believe Mr Cameron and those involved in making the decision to cut the Armed Forces are fully aware of the true cost and impact that the stroke of their pens will have on those who have served them so proudly."

And someone who is serving in the Falkland Islands said people on duty there were also in the frame for redundancy.

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