Fox says ex-MoD chiefs partly to blame as job cuts loom

Lord West: "The government has got to show some flexibility"

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The defence secretary says former senior military and MoD figures are partly to blame for £5bn budget cuts leading to defence force job losses.

Some 1,020 Royal Navy personnel have been hearing they are being made redundant as cuts continue.

Liam Fox told the Guardian the MoD had "consistently dug a hole for itself".

Former navy chief Admiral Lord West said the military had been cut to a "dangerously low capability" but it was "no good blaming things in the past".

Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said Mr Fox had to take responsibility for his actions.

But he added: "Savings must, of course, be made and Labour has recognised that long-standing, systemic faults with the MoD's procurement system were not tackled by successive governments."

The Navy is cutting numbers by 5,000 to 30,000 by 2015, as part of 22,000 armed forces cuts designed to help save £5bn.

The personnel losing their jobs are being informed throughout the day. A third of the redundancies are compulsory. Some 810 sailors applied for redundancy and 670 were accepted. RNAS Yeovilton base in Somerset has confirmed that it is losing 124 personnel.

Start Quote

These are people who were willing to sacrifice their lives for the nation”

End Quote Admiral Lord West Former head of the navy

Earlier this month about 920 soldiers and 930 RAF personnel were told they were being made redundant, in the first tranche of cuts announced in last year's Strategic Defence and Security Review.

The next round of redundancies is due in March. The Ministry of Defence is also shedding 32,000 civilian staff over the next four years.

Lord West told the BBC: "We have cut and cut and cut for many years and I think we are in real danger of cutting so deeply that we are unable to do things that we require as a nation.

"It is very sad," said Lord West, who was security minister in the last Labour government. "It's sad for the people involved, obviously, 300 of them are compulsory... these are people who were willing to sacrifice their lives for the nation.

"It's a bit worrying that 800 said they would voluntarily go. It's a bit worrying that they felt there was not a future for them."

Speaking to the Guardian newspaper, Dr Fox reflected on the actions of military chiefs under previous government, saying: "I think the MoD consistently dug a hole for itself that it eventually found that it could not climb out of.

"It is irritating to hear some of those who helped create the problem criticising us when we try to bring in a solution."

A "complete breakdown of trust" between the military and the government over ballooning costs reached its zenith towards the end of Gordon Brown's premiership, the defence secretary said.

'Morale knocked'

Defence job cuts by 2015

  • 12,000 Army
  • 5,000 Navy
  • 5,000 Royal Air Force
  • 32,000 civilian staff

He added that he wanted the armed forces to "take the pain early" so the military could balance its books and regain lost credibility.

Morale within the forces had "taken a knock" but most people understood that reform "had to be done", Dr Fox said.

But Lord West said it was "no good blaming things in the past".

"When I was an admiral, I used to make people captains of ships. I expected them to run that ship really well. If they kept telling me how bad it was before - at the end of the day, I'd sack them," he said.

Lord West said Mr Fox needed to battle with the prime minister and Treasury to get adequate funding for the armed forces.

"It would take a very little shift in resources from areas like foreign aid, the welfare budget, the National Health Service - a tiny, tiny fraction of those budgets - into defence would give us the capability to be able to build up to the force he's talking about," he said.

Commodore Michael Mansergh, the head of Royal Navy manning at the Ministry of Defence, told Radio 4's Today programme the reduction in personnel followed a reduction in equipment, including four frigates an aircraft carrier.

Commodore Michael Mansergh: "I wouldn't want to underestimate the pain"

"There are certain, certain equipments that are no longer in service and people who are technically suited to operate those equipments will no longer be required," he said.

He told the BBC News Channel the government decided the navy's commitments.

"We are looking very much to the future and, clearly, what the government asks us to do is to protect our interests around the world and the size and scale of that is very much a government decision. And we're just meeting what the government are asking us to do."

Only personnel not on or preparing for deployment, and who have taken all their operational leave, have been considered for redundancy from the Royal Navy.

This includes sailors who took part in the Libya campaign on HMS Cumberland and other ships now being decommissioned. Plymouth-based HMS Cumberland was the first UK warship sent to Libya earlier in the year.

The MoD says the decisions it faces are not easy but that they will "help to defend the UK, protect our interests overseas and enable us to work effectively with allies and partners to deliver greater security and stability in the wider world".

Many of the job cuts in the coming years are expected through a decrease in recruitment and by not replacing those who leave, but more than half are likely to be redundancies.

Below is a selection of your comments:

My son has just been told he's been made redundant. He's current deployed in a foreign county miles away from home and is devastated, the Navy is his life and was keen to fulfill his 22yrs. How can the government and the MoD treat their servicemen this way.

Amanda, UK

Still sat waiting to find out if I have a Job or not after travelling from one naval base to another.... Makes me laugh job cuts everywhere but are they in parliament prob not....more people going to be claiming benefits.

David, Preston

As a serving member of the RN I find the governments announcements of spending money on investigating an 80 mph speed limit and weekly bin collections obscene when on the same day they are making serving members of the armed forces redundant. I don't see how more people without jobs is going to help economic growth.

Anon, UK

I currently serve in the armed forces and find the whole situation of redundancies incredible. We cannot cope with current commitments and the majority of training is centred on Afghanistan and the Gulf. What about the UK ? I am very fortunate not to be in a category post that will be effected, however have began to see plenty of good men and women no longer consider the Armed Forces as a secure career and worry if their job will be next. It's bad enough that many are serving in hot spots or have returned recently, let alone the added pressure of possibly not having a job anymore. Our bosses are on living in a different world to me.

Peter

As an ex-serving member of the Royal Navy after having served 22 years and being at the top of the tree professionally and having years of experience and knowledge then to be told my contract is finished and I now need to leave it is a major blow to not only your morale but self confidence. Trying to find a civvy job is virtually impossible as civilian companies do not have any idea what an ex-service person can offer. Those being made redundant now face an extremely difficult time. Redundancy pay only lasts a short time so what will happen to these guys and girls that are leaving. Add them to the unemployment numbers! Is this cost saving or suicide? I do hope we don't have a repeat of the Falklands because the islanders would all end up speaking Argentinian!

Peter, Surrey

I left the Royal Navy submarine service in 1989, of my own accord. Over the next couple of years, as the end of cold war set in, many of my friends got 30 to 50 thousand pound redundancies. I envy anyone the chance to leave the forces with a payout, and wish them all the best for the future. Take it and spend it, enjoy. Don't save it for the future, it will only be taxed or cut from your pension.

Steve Frog, Bath

I was made redundant from the RN in 1993. It was like winning the lottery; it allowed me to pay off my mortgage, complete a degree and gave me a career path that will enable me to retire next year at 55. For me redundancy equalled opportunity. I have never stepped on a warship since and I'm now enjoying a sunshine lifestyle in Australia.

Michael Leach, Canberra, Australia

I'm no longer in the forces, but coming from a forces background and family these cuts scare the hell out of me. We are hard put to service the personnel in various active deployments at present, never mind any future conflicts, and it surprises me that any government puts money ahead of the defence of the nation. At present we have just about enough joint service personnel to stave off an attack by a one winged demented budgie, anything above that and we're toast. Think again coalition.

George Findlay, Boxgrove, UK

And we still keep two Admirals for every ship, and Generals and Air Marshalls in similar numbers. 'Retained for their expertise' is the excuse - well they haven't stopped all the project overruns and delays so far. There used to be a fashion, once, when I was in the army, where the top set an example. Not now though, the top make no sacrifices.

Michael Dommett, Alton, UK

Being an ex-serving Submariner in the Royal Navy, I saw a reduction in all armed forces. I feel with what is happening at the moment around the world what will it take for our government to realise that if anything major happen, conflict-wise on the scale of the Falklands or Korea then I am sorry that we will not be able to cope with it. Who will be keeping the country safe Boy Scouts ?

Ian Dobbins, Nottingham

I have a good friend in the Navy who is deeply worried about this. He is a single parent and has just had to put his kids into public school as he is expecting a couple of tours soon and will be unable to afford to keep them there if he is made redundant. Where will he get a school place and indeed somewhere to live now? With BAE making redundancies as well, one of his main likely employers after the Navy is now out of the question. Are we consigning these poor guys to the dole queue?

Stewart Powell, Sevenoaks, UK

Well Mr Fox what I have heard from friends in the armed forces is not that they understand but are angry and disillusioned for what is going on in the armed forces. One has said he will not vote for the Conservatives again even though he tried before the election to persuade people to vote for the Tories as he said they were the party for the armed forces.

Steve, Daventry

A friend of mine was once an officer in the army and was based at a naval base in Gosport. I visited my friend on numerous occasions and marvelled at the silver service dining room they used on a daily basis. This at the cost of the taxpayer and likely repeated elsewhere. The MOD has had a good run but now needs to join the land of the living. And those involved in equipment procurement projects that have snowballed in cost should be fired for incompetence.

Philip, Liverpool

How many Admirals have been made redundant? Remember Nick Clegg's (a hero of mine by the way) pre-election TV debates when he poured scorn on the fact we have more Admirals than battle ships.

Clive Horton, Derby, England

At the end of the day, cuts in this current climate are the only option. We cannot afford (although Labour has got its principles of helping all and big Government), to keep on spending and increasing the size of Governmental Departments just to create jobs and infrastructure to the UK Economy. It all has to end somewhere and unfortunately, MoD and other budgets need to be carefully looked at and cost cutting measures put into place, in order for a decent recovery of the Economy, not just for the UK but Europe!! The Coalition are doing a decent enough job, let them keep doing what they are doing and lets hope the spending cuts do not affect anything too major in the years to come!!

Ben Furneaux, Watford, Hertfordshire

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