As redundancies are announced in the army and navy and the head of the RAF says his service is ‘at full stretch’, Channel 4 News hears calls to re-open the Strategic Defence Spending Review.
The first redundancies from the army and the Royal Navy were announced by the Ministry of Defence, with 1,000 soldiers and 1,600 naval personnel to lose their jobs. Ghurkas will be among those hit, with 150 to be sacked in the first tranche of redundancies under the Strategic Defence Review.
Defence Minister Andrew Robathan sought to reassure MPs. “We are looking at this carefully and we would certainly not wish to make anybody redundant who is serving on combat operations,” he told the Commons.
But he said that those who had served in Afghanistan at some stage “may have to be considered for redundancy” because 55 per cent of the army had at one point seen service in the country. And in comments hinting at the changeable nature of conflicts involving the British Army, he added: “We do not yet know what operations will be current in September, when people will have received their redundancy notices.”
An eventual total of 5,000 army and 3,300 naval personnel will lose their jobs. These, in addition to the 2,700 planned in the RAF, are part of the 17,000 service and 25,000 civil servant job cuts planned by the Ministry of Defence over the next four years. Of the 17,000 service job cuts, just over a third will be accounted for from “natural wastage” such as retirements.
The announcements come amid calls for the Strategic Defence and Security Review to be reopened in light of new demands on the armed forces.
The head of the RAF, Air Chief Marshall Sir Stephen Dalton, earlier called for “genuine increases” in spending on the service if it was to satisfy the demands being put upon it by Ministers.
Talking to The Guardian, Sir Stephen said: “The key factor is that if we are to meet the requirements laid upon us, there is no question that more investment will be needed to achieve that.”
Sir Stephen reaffirmed his calls from last November that there would need to be a very real spending increase in the RAF from 2015 if it was to meet the targets for defence assets in 2020.
“It needs to happen from the next comprehensive spending review, 2014-15. If at that point the economy has recovered as the Government is predicting it should, they can then start to reinvest in some of the future capabilities we will need,” he said.
He said that operations in Libya could last well into the summer – in stark contrast to the original assertions of Chancellor George Osborne less than a fornight ago, when he had claimed the mission would be over by April. The conflict has escalated since then and so have questions whether the costs are in line with the £4.7 billion of cuts outlined in last year’s Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR).
Sir Stephen said the RAF was already operating at full stretch: “On current planning, we can continue in Afghanistan, the Falklands and Libya with what we have got. But that does bring you nearer the point that you have just about exhausted the bag. It’s a heck of a lot to be doing at one time,”
“The Government needs to run a rule over the SDSR because of the recent strategic shocks, the biggest one the events in Algeria right across to Oman.” Lord West, Former First Sea Lord
Lord West, a former First Sea Lord, told Channel 4 News that he felt the cuts set out in the 2010 spending review need to be looked at in light of recent demands on the armed services: “My view very much is the Government needs to run a rule over the SDSR because of the recent strategic shocks, the biggest one the events in Algeria right across to Oman.
“One of the mistakes Tony Blair made was he didn’t let Gordon Brown have enough money despite committing to new conflicts. It’s not the Chancellor’s fault, it’s his job to save money where he can, and now we have a very real risk of David Cameron being guilty of this again.”
Lord West was later among a series of Peers calling for the re-opening of the SDSR in reply the a Government statement in the House of Lords.
Professor Malcolm Chalmers of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), agreed with Sir Stephen Dalton that 2015 spending will need to be looked at as a matter of urgency. But he told Channel 4 News that he still believes that the cost of the Libya conflict will be picked up by the Treasury.
However he did highlight concern over further conflicts which could begin away from current deployments. “In a way the most important cost is the opportunity cost. These aircraft and people can not be in more than one place in one time, if something else turned up it would be very hard to generate more forces. The longer the deployment in Libya the more people will ask if we should redeploy some assets from Afghanistan.”
Bethany Torvell of The Navy Campaign supported Lord West’s calls for a re-evaluation of the SDSR, in light of recent increased pressure on the armed forces resources, specifically considering the cost of maintaining personnel and equipment at the Aviano air base in Italy: “As a taxpayer that hasn’t served, and against the backdrop of redundancies and some of the crazy PR that’s splattered across the press regarding Libya, I would like to know how much we’re spending on hotel bills and whether the cost of shipping bombs, planes and around 800 personnel to Italy was factored into the costs presented to the Government when they were making key decisions on capability last summer? Are we paying to use the base in Italy? Where is the money coming from?”