MoD cuts to boost military’s Whitehall clout

By Alex Stevenson

Senior military officers could find themselves handed greater powers to run the services even as their overall numbers are cut.

In a speech in central London, defence secretary Liam Fox said he was establishing a defence reform unit to help “find ways of devolving greater responsibility for the running of the services themselves”.

This would also consider “whether the current senior rank structure across the services is appropriate for the post-strategic defence and security review world”.

Dr Fox said the Ministry of Defence (MoD), which faces an unfunded liability of around £37 billion over the next ten years, would be reorganised into three pillars of policy and strategy, the armed forces and procurement and estates.

He would also aim towards a “cultural shift” in which responsibility is shifted away from Whitehall.

A defence reform unit is being set up under Lord Levene to oversee this transition, Dr Fox added.

He told an audience at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors: “We must get away from the over-centralising tendency that has become the hallmark of the MoD in recent years.”

The strategic defence and security review is set to be concluded this autumn and poses huge dilemma for the MoD, which must decide whether to rebalance Britain’s military capabilities and the future of the Trident nuclear deterrent.

Dr Fox said he was opposed to “endless salami slicing without any sense of security or stability”, but insisted he wanted to see Britain retain all its capabilities in the future in accordance with the national security council’s requests.

“This flexible, adaptable posture will maintain the ability to safeguard international peace and security, to deter and contain those who threaten the UK and its interests, and where necessary to intervene on multiple fronts,” he pledged.

Dr Fox said short-term cuts in spending were inevitable but blamed the Labour government’s legacy for the need to cut.

“They behaved like someone who has just received a catalogue in the post and who keeps ordering more and more items from it without once considering whether they might have the income to pay for any of them when the goods arrive,” he said.

“The price of this irresponsibility will ultimately be paid for by short-term reductions as we try to return defence to a sound footing.”

Shadow defence secretary Bob Ainsworth said the unresolved question of how Trident will be paid for undermined the defence review, however.

The Treasury has insisted the nuclear deterrent must be paid for from within the MoD’s budget, after refusing to provide funding for the expensive submarines from its own coffers.

“Today we had more unanswered questions from Liam Fox. He still can’t tell us how our nuclear deterrent will be paid for – but maybe that’s unsurprising as George Osborne seems to be calling all the shots,” he said.

“Until that fundamental question is resolved it will be impossible for the strategic defence and security review to proceed effectively. The government needs to give us a clear answer now.”