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Fox pledges 'backroom' cuts at MoD

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 13 August 2010

The Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox says there will have to be cuts in the "backroom" of his department so the government can afford to invest in troops on the frontline.

Soldiers: Defence Secretary Liam Fox outlines future for MoD

In a speech in London, Dr Fox was unwilling to say how many jobs he thought would have to go at the Ministry of Defence, which is facing cuts in its £37bn annual budget of 10-20 per cent as the government reduces the financial deficit.

He also refused to be drawn on the ongoing negotations between the MoD and the Treasury over the cost of  the Trident nuclear deterrent.

Soldiers killed in Afghanistan
His speech came on the same day that his department named a British soldier killed in Afghanistan and announced that two other servicemen had died.

Lieutenant John Charles Sanderson, who was 29 and from 1st Battalion The Mercian Regiment, died at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham on 11 August after being wounded in an explosion while on foot patrol a month ago.

Another serviceman from 1st Battalion The Mercian Regiment was injured in a helicopter incident at a patrol base in the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand province on 10 August.

He was flown back to Britain and died at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, surrounded by his family.

A third soldier, from 21 Engineer Regiment, died today after being shot in the Sangin District of Helmand. His family has been told.

There have been 330 British deaths in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion.

The Chancellor George Osborne said last month that the £20bn cost of renewing Trident would be borne by the MoD, rather than the Treasury.

Dr Fox, who has just returned from his second visit to Afghanistan as a minister, said the country needed a nuclear deterrent, but costs also had to be considered.

The cost would fall on the MoD, but how much money his department was granted was subject to negotiations with the Treasury.

A former Royal Navy commander tells Channel 4 News that Britain does not need its Trident nuclear deterrent.

Michael Codner, director of military sciences at the Royal United Services Institute, said: "My personal view is that there is a future without the deterrent."

Mr Codner was responding to the Defence Secretary Liam Fox's speech today, in which he said that there would have to be cuts in the "backroom" at the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in London so the government could afford to invest in troops on the frontline.

Mr Codner cast doubt on whether making these cuts would yield the savings Dr Fox was seeking. "You need to bear in mind the examples from history," he said.

"In the mid-1990s, we had the second phase of the post-cold war review. The emphasis was on the frontline - and it didn't deliver big economies."

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He said he was launching a full review of how the MoD was run under a reform unit made up of experts and chaired by Lord Levene.

"We need to challenge some of the fundamental assumptions which drive force generation, such as tour lengths and intervals, taking into account the varying pressures on our personnel resulting from widely varying missions to see if we can update our practices and produce greater efficiency while implementing the military covenant."

"We need to review all our current practices to ensure that we are using our greatest asset - our people - to the best of our ability."

Recap Liam Fox's speech with our live blog

He ruled out scrapping any of Britain's three armed forces, but said: "This must be the defence review that puts the cold war to bed."

The MoD would be re-organised into three pillars: policy and strategy, the armed forces, and procurement and estates.

There would also need to be a "cultural shift which will see a leaner and less centralised organisation combined with devolved processes which carry greater accountability and transparency".

Dr Fox talked about the "dangerous deficit" he said Labour had left: unfunded liabilities of £37bn over the next 10 years.

Who Knows Liam Fox:
Who Knows Who looks at the defence secretary's connections. View his power map here

He accused Labour ministers of pushing the cost of defence projects into future years, saying they had behaved like someone buying from a catalogue knowing they could pay later.

The approach to reductions could be simply to "cut a bit of everything", but this would be "intellectually indefensible".

What was needed was a thorough review of what the armed forces would look like in 2020 - radical change that would turn the "appalling legacy of Labour into a once in a lifetime opportunity".

Although Dr Fox was not prepared to speculate about the scale of job losses at a reformed MoD, he said he would not pretend the cuts would be "painless".

He said the coalition government was financially constrained by "a car crash of an economic picture .... but as I used to say to my patients, there's no point in complaining about the air if there's nothing else to breathe." 

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