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RAF base to close after Ministry of Defence cuts

By Cathy Newman

Updated on 11 December 2009

EXCLUSIVE: The government is to announce a package of defence cuts next week including the closure of at least one RAF base and a scaling back of the British base in Cyprus, after overspending massively on large scale military construction projects. Cathy Newman reports.

British military personnel and helicopter. (credit: Getty images)

The Ministry of Defence has bust its budget by billions of pounds.

It's overspent on big projects like ships, submarines and aircraft. So Channel 4 News understands that next week, the government plans to announce hundreds of millions of pounds of spending cuts in the department in order to balance the books.

Senior Whitehall sources told our political correspondent, Cathy Newman, the Ministry of Defence had wanted to go public with the savings in time for this week's pre-budget report.

But they had to delay the announcement after failing to reach agreement. Details are still being worked out tonight, but I understand an array of cuts will include the closure of at least one RAF station. A senior official told us the department was in real financial trouble.

The Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg MP told Channel 4 News:
"I think many soldiers in the frontline in Afghanistan will be really angered that the bloated Ministry of Defence back home where there are hundreds, thousands of civil servants doing desk jobs aren't doing what they're supposed to do, which is keep the budget in check so that our brave soldiers are properly supported in the frontline."

The MOD has unearthed an overspend of £6bn over the next decade, in part because of bad procurement decisions. Next week's savings will help balance the budget. The department faces far bigger cuts in the years to come as the government struggles to reduce its record £178bn deficit.

The RAF has 57 bases around the UK. There had been speculation that RAF Linton-on-Ouse and RAF Leeming were under threat, but Channel 4 News understands these stations have been saved. Two had been earmarked for closure - one will definitely be shut ... the fate of the second remains uncertain tonight.

The sovereign station in Cyprus will also be pared back, with savings on property.

There will also be cuts in IT, human resources and back office functions, and more controversially the MOD Police.

Next week's cuts will be contentious enough, but much worse is to come. Senior Whitehall sources admit the future of the Navy's two new aircraft carriers and the A400M aircraft is in doubt. Defence could face cuts of up to 16 per cent over three years because of the government's decision this week to protect spending on schools, hospitals and police.

Carl Emmerson from the IFS told the programme:

"Defence is one of the biggest areas of government spending where there hasn't been a commitment from the government  or from the Conservatives that it should be protected from cuts. So with that in mind, perhaps it's not surprising that the government's looking to make savings there."
In a statement tonight, the MOD said:

"This is speculation as no final decisions have been made. We routinely review our spending to ensure Afghanistan remains the top priority. Although some hard decisions will have to be made, no measures will affect operations."

The Defence Minister Quentin Davies MP, is in Seville and was unavailable for comment, after details of an expenses claim for repairs to his roof and bell-tower were published yesterday.

Gordon Brown was in Brussels today making yet another spending commitment on international aid. But he remains much more coy about spending cuts. He was forced to deny he'd clashed with his chancellor over how to tackle the deficit. Next week's announcement will do nothing to address that, but will raise further questions about his government's fiscal discipline.

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