Philip Hammond warns defence cuts 'risk capability'


Phillip Hammond warns further reductions in spending would erode military capability

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Further big cuts in defence spending will lead to the loss of the UK's armed forces capability, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has warned.

Things were "extremely taut" after the biggest cuts since 1991, he said ahead of the chancellor's spending review.

He told the BBC he would be "fighting the corner for my budget and defence".

The Ministry of Defence said while budgets for 2015-16 onwards had yet to be set, it had been promised a 1% annual increase in equipment spending.

Britain currently spends around £34bn a year on defence.

Speaking to the BBC, as he watched a Royal Marines training exercise in Norway, Mr Hammond said: "There may be some modest reductions we can make through further efficiencies and we will look for those, but we won't be able to make significant further cuts without eroding military capability."

Start Quote

This is just the annual game of horse trading that goes on at every department saying, 'we can't have any cuts here'”

End Quote Paul Flynn Labour MP

He added: "We have some very challenging targets ahead of us to deliver the outcome of the last spending review and I'm clear that we won't be able to deliver big further savings.

"But we need to look broadly across government at how we are going to do that, not just narrowly at a few departments."

'Collision course'

Reductions in defence spending for 2013-15, in addition to those in 2010's Strategic Defence and Security Review, were outlined in last year's Autumn Statement.

And Downing Street said last month the military would not be immune from further financial cuts in Chancellor George Osborne's next spending review - which is due to be published before the end of this year and will set out government spending plans for the first half of the next parliament.


It is rare for a senior minister to speak out so publicly about cuts that are still the subject of such tense negotiation.

But Philip Hammond is clearly trying to draw the battle lines ahead of the chancellor's Spending Review for post-2015.

George Osborne has to make savings of at least £10bn.

If that were to translate into cuts right across departments - save for those that have been "ring-fenced" - then the Ministry of Defence could lose more than another £1bn from its budget.

Mr Hammond says while there may be some scope for "modest efficiency savings" he's adamant that he won't be able to make significant cuts without eroding Britain's military capabilities - in other words making more troops redundant and axing more military equipment.

The defence secretary thinks the savings should come from other departments, namely the welfare budget.

That puts him on a collision course with the Conservative's coalition partners. Lib Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, has already publicly stated that he has no plans to make further savings in welfare budget.

A report this week from the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) suggested this could lead to additional reductions of more than £1bn a year in the defence budget from 2015.

However, returning from a trade visit to India in February, Prime Minister David Cameron said he was open to the idea of diverting money from the UK's £10bn aid budget to MoD projects, including peacekeeping and other security-related development.

In a Daily Telegraph interview, Mr Hammond said a number of Conservative cabinet ministers believed "that we have to look at the welfare budget again... if we are going to get control of public spending on a sustainable basis".

BBC defence correspondent Jonathan Beale says that, because Mr Hammond and other Tory ministers want a greater proportion of savings to come from the welfare budget, they are on a collision course with their Liberal Democrat partners.

Former leader of the Lib Dems, Sir Menzies Campbell, told BBC Radio 4's Saturday PM programme he understood the defence secretary's concerns, warning: "The real issue is you have to balance your resources against your ambitions, and the problem at the moment is that the resources keep being reduced, but the ambitions stay as grand as ever."

He admitted looking elsewhere for possible cuts was a "difficult issue" for the coalition, but said the chancellor had a "responsibility to make sure the poorest people are protected" if the welfare budget was reduced.

Battle lines

Our defence correspondent says tense negotiations over the next public spending round are already under way and Mr Hammond was publicly drawing the lines of battle.

Conservative MP Patrick Mercer said Mr Hammond's comments were "a warning shot across Treasury bows and Lib Dem bows".

He told BBC Radio 5 live it came at "an extremely febrile time" on the back of the Eastleigh by-election, which the Liberal Democrats won while the Conservatives were pushed into third place.

Labour MP Paul Flynn told Radio 5 live Mr Hammond had started "the annual game of horse trading that goes on at every department saying, 'we can't have any cuts here'".

"Every department should take these cuts," he said.

Referring to a report by the Public Accounts Committee - which revealed the MoD had bought £1.5bn worth of equipment between 2009 and 2011 that it had not used - he said it had been "most outrageously wasteful in spending".

In response to Thursday's report, the government pledged "to reverse decades of lax inventory management".

Scottish National Party MSP Bill Kidd said a "simple" solution to save money within the defence budget was not to renew the Trident nuclear weapons programme "which would save £100bn".


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  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    @ penguin337. You may say that our military are rarely used for anything sensible, I suggest you review the multiple things the Royal Navy have been involved in over the last 5 years before you say that. The military is more than just the Army you know!

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Hammond is raising a scare about cuts to the forces so that further cuts to the poor, the disabled and unemployed will seem OK. The Tories will offer a 'choice' between funding the forces or the disadvantaged. Meanwhile, bankers have obscene bonuses, millionaires get a tax cut, corporations pay no tax. Many will fall for it, clamouring for cuts for the poor because forces' cuts are so emotive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Whilst cost-effectiveness is essential in all public sectors, the military are approaching a minimal critical mass, that is essential to preserve skills, experience and operational capability for both now and the future. Our military are respected throughout the world, because of those skills and experience: something you can't buy or replace over-night.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    we should be saying to the banking industry NO more bounses until the tax payers money is paid back and the fines that they have incured should be paid by them not the tax payer.
    Why cant this goverment see by putting more people out of work it WILL increase the welfare budget. So lets defend our lads and lasses that defend us,

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    This is really starting to sound like a cliché now.

    While we spend money on foreign aid and immigrants to come here and breed like bunnies, there are British citizens getting worse care in hospital than prisoners in jail.

    Take into account that the services set up to protect us (Police, Army, Paramedics) are being cut by the throat and you see how horribly things are right now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Fine words from Hammond - but..... this is a man who seems to bend with the wind - I cant think of any item relating to the military where he said enough is enough. I dont see any move to resign as a matter of principle - silly me politicians and principle dont mix nowadays
    ruin the NHS, destroy the savings of pensioners (through some of the strangest fiscal policies ever).

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Hammond should turn his guns on the PM and the Foreign Office. They are the culprits who keep committing our armed forces around the world.

    We must stop trying to be the big guy. We can no longer afford it. We must pass responsibility for the Middle East to Saudi Arabia. They have the forces AND they can afford to do it.

    We need strong armed forces to defend the UK not the world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    @3 You are a genius. Its keeping people in manufacturing jobs. Instead, get rid of the fat, useless civil servants wasting finances and resources. How many long term on the sick do they have. Civvy grot are causing the problems not the military personnel. Also, stop spending so much welfare on homegrown and foreign scroungers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    So Eastleigh was the straw that broken Camerons back.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Free TV licences and winter fuel allowance for millionaires over 75? We must be awash with money, so Defence need not be cut.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Reality Bites.
    The huge economic mess left by the incompetant La La Labour 'government' and the failure to address it by larger cuts will only mean the 'recession' and its effect on our country will last for much longer.
    I am not sure if the situation is retrievable due to the lack of commitment of citizens and government to address the massive problems left.
    Heads in sand time or reality?

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Limp-wristed ideological concessions to the Liberace Democrats and their New Labour bedfellows have already led to a split in the right-wing vote (serving liberal/metropolitan purposes splendidly). While it's not too late however, concessions to the Lib Dems in the cabinet cannot be allowed to leave this country with a threadbare defensive capability.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    And what can Hammond do about it except throw his toys out the pram!

    You can tell he's a Tory can't you, he'd sooner be cutting benefits. Perhaps he can start looking at the waste, the bad deals that MOD have made as a start.

    One thing will help.... is limit ALL MPs expenses - but no they won't.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    I find people's attitude to defense quite bizarre;

    If the Government cuts military spending then people say it's an outrage.

    But if the Government actually deploys the military then that too is an outrage.

    People seem to like the idea of us having strong armed forces but are appalled when we actually use it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    I am sure we could print some more soldiers.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    If we want an army they cost money - a lot of money. Let's grow up and pay up. Thre are plenty of far bigger budget s that can be cut to pay for all of the defence costs. Let's start on benefits.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Right now in terms if what the public actually want, I'm sure billions spent on defence is pretty low down the list.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    There is so much to cut from welfare, the government jut need to have the courage to do it without pandering to hordes of lobbyists. The fact that we dont need to use our military to protect our shores is because we have one. The world is not the fluffy and reasonable place the LibDems and other vegetarians will pretend it is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Let's hope we can achieve 2 things, reduce waste and inefficiency in supply, and continue to provide an excellent on the map response as is our role should be in the World.

    Our armed forces are too important for the benefit of the UK, otherwise we will decline even more quickly into "third world" obscurity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Mr Hammond, your title is DEFENCE Secretary - not War Secretary - so act accordingly and stop wasting our troops and taxes on unwinable offensive campaigns overseas. Defend our borders.


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