2 March 2013
Last updated at 13:50
Further big cuts in defence spending would lead to more job losses and less equipment in the UK’s armed forces, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond warns.
Things were “extremely taut” after the biggest cuts since 1991, he said ahead of the chancellor’s spending review.
He told the BBC he would be “fighting the corner for my budget and defence”.
The Ministry of Defence said while budgets for 2015/2016 onwards had yet to be set, it had been promised a 1% annual increase in equipment spending.
The BBC’s Jonathan Beale said that, as Mr Hammond and some other Tory ministers wanted a greater proportion of savings to come from the welfare budget, they were on a collision course with their Lib Dem partners.
Reductions in defence spending for 2013-15 in addition to those in 2010’s Strategic Defence and Security Review were outlined in last year’s Autumn Statement.
But Downing Street said last month that the military would not be immune from further financial cuts in Chancellor George Osborne’s spending review later this year.
A report this week from the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) suggested this could lead to additional reductions of more than £1bn a year in the defence budget from 2015.
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It is rare for a senior minister to speak out so publicly about cuts that are still the subject of such tense negotiation.
But Philip Hammond is clearly trying to draw the battle lines ahead of the chancellor’s Spending Review for post 2015.
George Osborne has to make savings of at least £10bn.
If that were to translate into cuts right across departments – save for those that have been “ring-fenced” – then the Ministry of Defence could lose more than another £1bn from its budget.
Mr Hammond says while there may be some scope for “modest efficiency savings” he’s adamant that he won’t be able to make significant cuts without eroding Britain’s military capabilities – in other words making more troops redundant and axing more military equipment.
The defence secretary thinks the savings should come from other departments, namely the welfare budget.
That puts him on a collision course with the Conservative’s coalition partners. Lib Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, has already publicly stated that he has no plans to make further savings in welfare budget.
Speaking to the BBC as he oversaw a Royal Marines training exercise in Norway, Mr Hammond said: “There may be some modest reductions we can make through further efficiencies and we were look for those, but we won’t be able to make significant further cuts without eroding military capability.”
He added: “We have some very challenging targets ahead of us to deliver the outcome of the last spending review and I’m clear that we won’t be able to deliver big further savings.”
He said he understood “the chancellor’s challenge to find additional savings in order to consolidate the public finances, as we have to do”.
“But we need to look broadly across government at how we are going to do that, not just narrowly at a few departments.”
Liberal Democrat MP Julian Huppert told BBC News that troops deserve our support but there had to be more efficiency with the way the defence budget was spent.
“I can understand why Philip Hammond wants to keep as much money in his own budget as possible but I think he has to accept that in times of austerity when there are difficulties with spending money it is important for us to be far more efficient in terms of ministry of defence spending, not to waste money on gold plating but to provide the troops with the support they need and deserve.”
Scottish National Party MSP Bill Kidd said a “simple” solution to save money within the defence budget was not to renew the Trident nuclear weapons programme which would save £100bn according to Mr Kidd.
“Mr Hammond is absolutely right that the armed forces cannot take any more cuts from his government but neither can the welfare budget, which has been brutally slashed, leaving hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people out of pocket,” he added.
BBC defence correspondent Jonathan Beale said tense negotiations over the next public spending round were already under way and Mr Hammond was publicly drawing the lines of battle.
In a Daily Telegraph interview, Mr Hammond said that a number of Conservative cabinet ministers believed “that we have to look at the welfare budget again… if we are going to get control of public spending on a sustainable basis”.
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This is just the annual game of horse trading that goes on at every department saying, ‘we can’t have any cuts here’”
Our correspondent said Mr Hammond’s Lib Dem coalition partners believed welfare cuts had gone far enough.
Conservative MP Patrick Mercer said Mr Hammond’s comments were “a warning shot across Treasury bows and Lib Dem bows”.
He told BBC Radio 5 live it came at “an extremely febrile time” on the back of the Eastleigh by-election, which the Liberal Democrats won while the Conservatives were pushed into third place.
Labour MP Paul Flynn, meanwhile, told Radio 5 live Mr Hammond had started “the annual game of horse trading that goes on at every department saying, ‘we can’t have any cuts here'”.
“Every department should take these cuts,” he said.
Referring to a report by the Public Accounts Committee – which revealed the Ministry of Defence had bought £1.5bn worth of equipment between 2009 and 2011 that it had not used – he said it had been “most outrageously wasteful in spending”.
In response to Thursday’s report, the government pledged “to reverse decades of lax inventory management”.
Philip Hammond warns defence cuts risk more job losses – BBC News
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