A major civil service union has warned ministers that further delays in finalising defence budgets will jeopardise jobs and the UK’s reputation for excellence in the sector.
Garry Graham, deputy general secretary of the Prospect union, said reports that ministers were planning to split publication of its Strategic Defence and Security Review, delaying defence funding considerations until later in the year, raised significant concerns over the government’s commitment to investment.
The report, in the Financial Times, suggested that the delay would allow Treasury officials time to scrutinise funding demands made by new defence secretary Gavin Williamson, who replaced Sir Michael Fallon after his November resignation, prompted by sexual misconduct allegations.
According to the FT, splitting publication of the security elements of the review to the defence elements would allow defence funding decisions to be pushed back until “much later in the year”.
Prospect’s Graham said that urgent answers over the defence budget and the government’s commitment to jobs and investment in the defence sector were needed.
“Britain has a world-class defence industry but that is now at risk by further delays and uncertainty over the future of the UK defence budget,” he said.
“With uncertainty over Brexit and Britain’s role in the world, it is even more important that we keep sovereign capability to serve our armed forces with the equipment that they need. If ministers let these skills go, it is difficult to turn the tap back on.
“The test for the security review is that hopes for a more comprehensive defence industrial strategy are not dashed. Security will not be achieved by weakening existing military capabilities.
“World Bank figures show that since the end of the Cold War, defence spending has averaged at 2.4% of GDP, but now stands at just 1.8%. In an increasingly uncertain world we need certainty to invest in our defence infrastructure and capability and recognise its importance not only in keeping us safe but the valuable contribution it makes to the UK economy.”
Security minister Ben Wallace was asked about the FT report on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning. He described it as speculation, but did not dismiss it as untrue.
“I’m focused as security minister on our counter-terrorism response, and the government as a whole is always determined to make sure it gets both its spending and capacity aims right in the area of defence and security and we’ll do that thoroughly and under the leadership of the prime minister,” he said.
“We’ve had both the National Security Capability Review, which is starting to report, and the defence secretary has talked about some of their concerns, and we’re just going to focus on that.
“This government has continued to increase spending on defence and security and will continue to do so.”
Last month, senior MPs on the House of Commons’ Liaison Committee locked horns with prime minister Theresa May over national security adviser Mark Sedwill’s refusal to appear before members of the Defence Select Committee.
They said the former Home Office perm sec’s behaviour amounted to “obstruction”.