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 452.

    I served in the armed forces in the 80s and 90s. There is no such thing as 'risking capability' in military terms as Hammond puts it. What we risk is losing influence in foreign policy. We should ask the questions: What part do we want to play in security in Europe and the Middle East? Do we want to play a part in helping with the Syria situation, or just look on? We have choices to make!

  • rate this

    Comment number 451.

    I wonder who has shares in building submarines or builds them.Much merging over the years,fraud and the likes.Mutual Self Destruction,NOT a very clever plan i would suggest...

  • rate this

    Comment number 450.

    With one of the largest defence budgets in the world it could be reduced by 20% without losing any effectiveness.
    The MoD waste £billions on unnecessary equipment (such as the Eurofighter) unnecessary personal (such as the 80% of the RAF) and a triplicate command structure.
    Put the armed forces under ONE (Navy based) commend with Fleet Air Arm and Marines and the rest are not needed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 449.

    Every immigrant we could return home would open up a job for one of our own unemployed that costs us so much in benefits. That is the proper way to reduce the benefit bill. Stop wasting jobs on the greedy migrants here taking our prosperity just so they can have a better life, at our expense! Hard working or not, every migrant here puts someone on benefits and burdens our taxes by being here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 448.

    Germany has a far smaller military than us, that's the point. We have the no4 expenditure on defence in the world, but only the no6 economy and it looks like it's going to be less than no6 shortly. We can still provide PROPORTIONATE response for the UN etc We shouldn't be spending hugely disproportinately on this, constantly fighting other wars, our soldiers injured. Fight their own wars.

  • Comment number 447.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 446.

    I suppose in the grand scheme of things, cutting critical benefits and boosting defence spending result in the same thing:

    killing the undesirables (brown people, poor people, and brown poor people) that the condemned party hates.

  • rate this

    Comment number 445.

    396.Dan - "Benefits need to be cut........."

    Great, lets have children begging on the streets of Britain.....

    There are only two ways to reduce the benefits bill any further:

    A/. Stimulate the economy & create more jobs

    B/. Tackle by far the largest element of the welfare bill - Housing Benefit. Introduce rents caps (like most EU member states have......)

  • rate this

    Comment number 444.

    Cut benefits aye, I suppose that would include unemployed soldiers as well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 443.

    What a shocker,cuts to lead to inability to do the job.
    How long before the health,welfare and police ministers say the same.
    Still tories can afford to cut taxes on millionaires,leave open tax loopholes,allow massive banking bonuses,increase their own wages and expenses,vilify the unemployed and apparantly we are still all in it together, except we are not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 442.

    The reality is we can't afford the current defence capability - so focus:
    1) improve procurement efficiency
    2) focus on rapid deployment
    3) support UK defence technologies - not US
    4) deploy troops at home to support local communities
    5) don't replace trident (what exactly is it that makes a weapon obsolete?)

  • rate this

    Comment number 441.

    Maybe we should sack him but give him his job back without pay - call him a reservist MP.

  • rate this

    Comment number 440.

    As far as I am concerned, those behind the banking crash are guilt of high treason and should be prosecuted as such. This is justified by the damage their actions have done to the countries ability to defend its self.
    I suspect these particular financial masters of the universe have done more damage than all the eastern spies managed during the whole of the cold war.

  • rate this

    Comment number 439.

    If they are te are not doing it legally as there are limits on what they can get
    The worst people for ripping the benefit system off are people who have well paid jobs and property who see it as away to get sum extra cash as most people who are genuine get feed up of all the forms and checks you have to go through and to find out what help you can get as the welfare system do's not

  • rate this

    Comment number 438.

    Wonderful song, wonderful sentiment, penned however from a man who was slain without mercy on the steps of his apartment by a lunatic with a gun..........Life in peace we can only hope !

  • rate this

    Comment number 437.

    @402. DUMPTHECAR

    "Running the EU's military as a combined force would save £ billions."

    Oh great another EU superstate nut job. I wonder where all the defence contracts would go if controlled by the EU germany n france by any chance? and looking at how the EU runs it budget it would end up costing billions more. So no thxs let's run our own army.

  • rate this

    Comment number 436.

    396. Dan
    "Benefits need to be cut"

    Not necessarily true. Many benefits are paid to working people who are struggling because wages are low & rents are ridiculously high

    There may be a few who are abusing the system but does that mean you want to punish the genuine vast majority?

    By that logic it is ok to hang people for murder- hanging the innocent it is ok because you also get the guilty too?

  • rate this

    Comment number 435.

    Question is do we want a well equipped professional army?The government needs to set its limitations and understand those limitations and not try to push them further. Personally I think buying expensive American jets like the F-35 is a folly. We do need aircraft carriers if we want to protect our colonies abroad but we should be buying British and supporting British industry like the Americans do

  • rate this

    Comment number 434.

    It'll save £100bn (over 1/3 of the decades projected defence spending). Why, then, won't Westminster even consider this?"

    Because we'd lose our seat on the Security Council. The obsession with keeping that seat is baffling - we are not a world player any more, at best we are the US's poodle following on 2 paces behind. The sooner we accept that the better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 433.

    Further cuts would limit our capability to do what? Its about time our 'leaders' stopped thinking of the UK as a global power. Defence spending should focus on protecting the UK in the case of an attack not on pursuing wars on primarily Muslim states. It should come as no surprise that we're seen as colonialists & infidels when we send our troops into nations who don't do as the USA tells them.


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