Our Armed Forces cannot be let down again
The Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth arrives in Portsmouth, December 2018 | PA Images
The defence secretary must match his commitments with resources and publish the Integrated Review alongside a multi-year funding settlement
The Integrated Review will be this government’s third major defence and security review in the last decade. But with the Comprehensive Spending Review now suspended, it raises serious concerns that this review will repeat the same failures as its predecessors.
Indeed, the secretary of state for defence said the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review was “not properly funded,” and “an ambition that did not have the funding attached”.
Only in September of this year, the defence secretary promised “a four-year spending settlement… for capital and a three-year settlement for revenue”.
Of course the pressures of dealing with the global pandemic have made conducting a spending review more challenging. But without a multi-year financial settlement, this Integrated Review risks repeating the mistakes of the past, undermining UK security and once again leaving Armed Forces personnel to take the brunt.
Speaking at the recent Atlantic Future Forum Conference, the defence secretary said, “The world does not stop for our reviews, our adversaries will not halt [in] the absence of our strategies, and the UK’s defence can never be paused in the face of financial uncertainty.”
I could not agree more. Which begs the question why, four weeks on, the government has yet to provide clarity about what this means for the Integrated Review, leaving our Armed Forces and defence industry in the dark.
If this government is serious about achieving its Global Britain vision, it cannot begin with a plan that is half-baked or underfunded.
But, sadly, this is not the first time we have seen government funding issues with defence and security reviews. The National Audit Office (NAO) in 2017 warned “the risks to the affordability of the Ministry of Defence Equipment Plan are greater than at any point since reporting began in 2012”.
The NAO also warned the 2018 and 2019 equipment programmes were unaffordable. As a consequence, we have seen time and again that it is our Armed Forces who are made to pay the price.
Over the last decade each review has over-promised and under-delivered.
The last two reviews have cut the size of the Armed Forces by around 20%. Each review has ended up delivering larger cuts than planned.
UK Armed Forces are even now nearly 12,000 short of the strength promised in the 2015 review. The defence secretary has refused to rule out further cuts to the Armed Forces.
On top of this, essential equipment from armed fighting vehicles, support ships and protective radar systems for the carriers are long overdue. Then we have the £13bn black hole in the equipment plan.
This is not a sustainable path. Lessons must be learnt and this review must change the direction of defence after a decade of failure. This must begin by putting the Armed Forces front and centre of the review.
To do that, the defence secretary must deliver on his promise to publish the review alongside a multi-year funding settlement.
For each spending commitment to be credible, each should have both a full timescale and end-date, in order for the government to then make the public case for them.
Our Armed Forces have always been there to support and protect us when we needed them most, no less so in response to the Covid-19 outbreak.
During this period of remembrance, it is only right the government recognises it cannot repeat the mistakes of the past. It needs to back our Armed Forces with the review they deserve.
Stephen Morgan is Labour MP for Portsmouth South and shadow armed forces minister