David Cameron 'to keep defence equipment spending pledge'

Philip Hammond says he will be "making the case" for money to be spent on equipment

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David Cameron has said he will keep a pledge to increase defence equipment spending in real terms after 2015.

The prime minister made the pledge in 2010, at a time when the coalition thought the structural deficit would be cut in this Parliament.

Despite plans for further spending cuts beyond 2015, Mr Cameron said the UK would still have the fourth largest defence budget in the world.

Spending would be focused on the needs of a "modern military", he added.

Speaking in Libya, where he is on the second leg of a tour of north and west Africa, Mr Cameron highlighted intelligence and transport resources, as well as the special forces, as areas which were vital to Britain's defence capability.

Analysis

The only commitment made by this government so far is to increase the budget of the defence equipment programme - by a modest 1% after 2015.

But military kit only accounts for about half of the MOD's annual budget with manpower and defence estates swallowing up large resources too.

There's no guarantee to increase the overall defence budget - it is more an aspiration. One that will be hard to meet given the continuing tough economic times.

While protecting the nation's armed forces from further cuts is important to many - including many Conservative MPs - defence will not be the issue that decides the next election.

The reality is that there will be more cuts even if the MOD budgets is "ring fenced".

There's the additional costs of bringing back the army from Germany; of maintaining large amounts of military kit that will soon be returned from Afghanistan; of operating two new aircraft carriers still being built and developing a new generation of drones and the successor to trident.

Even if there was a modest rise in the overall budget ministers are still going to find it hard to meet the existing demands of a smaller armed forces.

Speaking earlier, defence secretary Philip Hammond indicated that the rest of the budget - about half - would be up for discussion in the forthcoming government spending review, in which many departments will be facing further cuts.

During the current parliament, health and international development were the only two departments to be promised above-inflation funding increases.

Last week, Chancellor George Osborne said government spending cuts must continue until 2017 - the latest GDP figures showed the UK economy shrank by 0.3% in the last three months of 2012, fuelling fears the economy could re-enter recession.

Many Conservative backbenchers have been pushing for the MoD to be exempt from the next round of reductions - and Mr Hammond himself is said to be resisting any further cuts - especially after the recent hostage crisis in Algeria and the Western intervention in Mali.

BBC political correspondent Iain Watson said: "There are particular tensions over departmental budgets for the financial year 2015-16 which haven't yet been finalised, but which will come into effect just before the next general election."

He said other government departments were now likely to be concerned that the "spending axe" will cut more deeply into their budgets.

But, Iain Watson added: "Defence spending will still be 8% lower by 2015 than it was when the government came to power."

Security partnership

For Labour, shadow armed forces minister Kevan Jones accused the government of "spinning... our forces don't want jam tomorrow and P45s today. They will judge ministers on their record".

Although the UK is scaling back its military presence in Afghanistan, there have been new demands in places such as Libya last year, and relating to Mali at the moment.

Speaking in Algeria during his current visit to Africa, David Cameron said that the international community should use "everything at its disposal" to fight terrorism.

David Cameron on defence budgets

  • 19 Oct, 2010: "The precise (defence) budgets beyond 2015 will be agreed in future spending reviews. My own strong view is that this structure will require year-on-year real-terms growth in the defence budget in the years beyond 2015."
  • 7 Dec, 2011: "Further work was undertaken this year to address the longer-term financial position so that on 18 July the Government were able to set out plans to increase in real terms the investment in defence equipment by 1% per annum between 2015-16 and 2020-21."

He also announced that the two countries had agreed a security partnership, including co-operation on border and aviation security, as well as joint action on trade, investment and education.

The UK has also invited Algeria to participate in a joint contingency planning exercise to share experience in responding to crisis situations, in the wake of the gas plant hostage crisis in which up to six Britons died.

The UK announced on Tuesday it was to send 330 military personnel to Algeria's neighbour Mali and west Africa to support French forces battling Islamist militants.

The deployment will include as many as 40 military advisers in Mali and 200 British soldiers in neighbouring African countries, to help train the Malian army.

Mr Hammond told the BBC that he could not "put a definite timetable on it but certainly the training mission we are undertaking I would expect to last a matter of months".

The restatement of the PM's commitment to future rises in defence spending above the rate of inflation, came as Mr Hammond prepared to publicise the Ministry of Defence's £160bn equipment plan for the next 10 years.

The list includes nearly £36bn for a new generation of nuclear-powered submarines, almost £19bn for combat aircraft, and around £17bn for Royal Navy warships.

Mr Hammond says he has finally eliminated a "black hole" in the defence budget that the coalition government says it inherited from the former Labour government.

Graphic showing government spending by department 2012-13

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