Saturday, 24 November 2007

The Brown Brothers protest too much

Hash Brown and Des Browne are fighting a rearguard action. Responding to the assault from the Chiefs of Staff, the Brown Brothers claim that the annual military budget has been increasing during their stewardship.
This may be true but it's all relative isn't it? Compared with the growth in the budgets of other key Government Departments, the MoD has seen the lowest increase. As a percentage of GDP, investment in the Armed Forces has halved over the last ten years, from 5% to 2.5%. CIA figures show Britain is 70th in the world in the share of national income devoted to defence. Also its obvious that what you can actually buy for $1million in the UK is a lot - a lot - less than what you would get for $1million in say China or Iran. Spending has been increasing but at a much lower rate than the rising cost of equipment and certainly at a slower rate than that needed to keep pace with the aspirations of the politicians and with the increasing commitments and tasks being piled on the Armed Forces.
In any case, what has this extra budget been spent on?

Well there's overspends on MoD capital projects of course......
  • £2.1billion extra on the 232 (unwanted) Eurofighter Typhoons for the RAF (£67 million each as opposed to the £58 million forecast in 2003)
  • £0.8billion overspend on MoD IT projects over the last 5 years.
  • £1.1billion extra on the 8 Type 45 destroyers now due to enter service in 2010 at least two years late
  • £1billion extra on the new Astute class attack submarines now projected to cost £3.6billion
  • £0.7billion extra on the new Nimrod MRA4 currently running seven years late.
  • £?million extra on the research stages of the £20billion replacement programme for Trident and the £8billion project for the two new CVF aircraft carriers.

The Guardian: MPs accuse MoD of £2.6bn overspend
The Guardian: UK's biggest arms projects are £3.5bn over budget

And don't forget the extra £1.6 billion to refurbish the MoD's new Whitehall offices (original budget £746million, likely final outturn £2.35billion).

You've got to read this article in the Times:
MoD spends £2.3bn on Whitehall offices
"Over the next decade, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) will spend the equivalent of more than £75,000 for each top official working at the ministry’s headquarters on refurbishments, repairs and services. In contrast, it has budgeted just a third of the amount — only £25,000 per person — for refurbishment and repairs to soldiers’ living quarters. "
The Brownies clearly like prestigious projects that will give them opportunities for posturing on the world stage. But the massive spend and overspends on these grandiose schemes have come at the expense of the troops both when they are serving overseas and when they return home. The politicians are more interested in protecting the jobs of their constituents in the poorly-managed defence industry than protecting the lives of the soldiers in the front line.
We expect more and more of our armed forces but leave them underresourced and unappreciated. The lack of proper funding and equipment for our service personnel is a national scandal, as is the casual indifference and lack of respect that too many people show even to those injured in conflict. Soldiers do not make the decision to engage in unpopular wars. When ordered to fight in them, they are doing so on our behalf.
If the Government sends its soldiers to war, the Government must treat them right. They must be given decent pay, decent accommodation, decent healthcare and decent equipment. Nor does the unpopularity of the wars give the Government the excuse to renege on its obligations and duty to the troops who are risking their lives every day.

The Brown Brothers may protest that they have "nothing but praise" for the Forces and that they are putting more money into defence "than ever before". But stories of the neglect, hardship and shoddy treatment being meted out to the guys on the ground continue to come out and continue to disgust.