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 52.

    Hammond is right - defence is the first priority. Cut back on the welfare scroungers like pensioners who have never had it so good.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    Plenty of savings to be had, stop foreign aid, cut councils bloated budgets (vision managers, Islamic understanding courses and councillors salaries), scrap Trident and make slash MPs salaries and expenses (rail cards and bus Cards instead of cars). Our services and poor cannot take anyone bashing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Austerity cuts would not be necessary if the government did 3 things.

    1-collect all taxes due from everyone who should be paying them.
    2-put a stop to all overseas aid.
    3-make the banks pay for the ruin they have brought on everyone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    What enemies do we have as a nation anymore, apart from those we have made ourselves. Russia? China? Those countries want to sell us stuff, not blow us up. No soldier should die because he lacks equipment, but if politicians didn't send them off in the first place then we as a country would be billions of pounds richer. That is a fact they all seem to conveniently ignore.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    It takes years to commission the personnel and equipment that are needed at the drop of a hat – the only thing faster than our forces response is the accountant’s pen! We cannot leave ourselves venerable. As Kipling might of said – stop knocking “Tommy”.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Peace in our time :-) Don't forget the lessons of history.
    Agree far too much wasted money wasted by back office staff but never forget the front line.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Keep cutting I say! I look at RICH countries like Austria, Norway, Switzerland, even Australia and look at their Armies and see how well they've done and think we've got it wrong and them right! Stop being America's poodle, get rid of the bloody Falklands, pull out of all our wars and start saving some real money. There's plenty of rebuilding to be done AT HOME so plenty for the Forces to do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    We should slash our defence forces in size and bring them home, within the borders. They're defence forces, not world police forces.

    We could retrench a lot of boys & girls, mercifully, removing them from this noble yet deadly profession: putting their skills, talents and energies to vital use in our civilian, private economy. Producing things & services we all need, out of harm's way :D

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    To save our UK budget inc.our marvelous armed forces stop giving foreign aid for countries who wanted independence from us and some other countries, add the benefit seekers from the UK and foreign parts . We must look after ourselves and do-gooders and PC mob pipe down as I would suggest most of the UK have had enough of you but no doubt the lefty BBC will still give you lots of air time !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Just what is our "capability' mean to be used for?

    To invade others, or defend ourselves.

    Yes, i do think we need a robust, fit-for-purpose, defence military, but i don't need nukes for that, nor i think should we be invading other countries.

    Sure some of them are war zones of their own making, but a UN police force is the easiest way to neutrally manage that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    The cuts the MOD have had are less than half of those the public sector have received.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Who are are we defending ourselves against. Who would want to invade this 2nd world nation with no skills base, no manufacturing of consequence and a population subjugated by a norrow minded right wing philosophy of only they know the answers.
    1 less hungy child is worth more than any tank,1 warm well nourished pensioner is worth more than attack aircraft any medical person worth more than a ship

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    The most important duty a government has to perform is the defence of its citizens. Not doing this could be considered traitorous. It may be good budgeting but it's bad for our health. Mr Cameron and friends have failed if they can't do this ( we know they can't do much else).

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    After watching £200 million worth of BRAND NEW Nimrod aircraft being scrapped in 2011, I feel anything this government says in regard to defence is nothing but utter nonsense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Post 4 Dumpthecar says it all - absolutely correct. Every year, people in the UK face difficult NHS issues (such as Stafford), deaths on our roads (lack of traffic policing) and dog attacks ( no cohesive policy on licensing) - these are just 3 examples. How many UK citizens have died at home as a result of terrorism in the last 3 years? Zero. Perhaps we need to completely reconsider our policy?

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Being in charge means leading from the front, fat chance of that ever happening with this lot. My local MP gets his 65K odd salary plus he claimed £161K in expenses last year so nearly a quarter of million pounds for what? x by 600 odd and you have a gigantic slap in the face to soldiers and the unemployed.

  • Comment number 36.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Infact anyone that would fight for a nation that opens borders and sells gold and gives away every single job is a traitor.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    The first responsibility of any government is to protect its citizens. This is done by the army abroad and the emergency services at home. All have been guilty of irresponsible spending in the past but any further cuts will leave the public and the nation vulnerable. The previous cuts were harsh but do-able but cutting again just means that the chancellor has no idea what else to do..........

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Mr Hammond, if you are looking to save money why dont you look at yourselves and all your Sir Humpry's in Whitehall.
    Personally i would rather have an Armed Forces to protect us instead of pen-pushers in Whitehall trying to direct things.
    If you cut back on the Armed Forces God help the Falkland Islanders


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