BBC NEWS | 2009/12/15 | 08:28:39 GMT
The defence secretary is due to outline how he plans to pay for extra equipment for British operations in Afghanistan by making cuts elsewhere. An RAF base could be shut and thousands of defence jobs lost in Whitehall and also within the armed forces. Bob Ainsworth is expected to tell MPs more than 20 Chinook helicopters are being ordered over the next 10 years. It comes as a report accuses the MoD of driving up projects’ overall budgets through short-term cost-cutting. The BBC understands parts of RAF Kinloss, in Moray, could be mothballed as part of the spending cuts.
The government is expected to announce it is buying the Chinooks from Boeing after months of criticism over the number of helicopters in operation in Helmand, in Afghanistan. An extra C17 transport plane could also be on the cards. But the money will have to come out of the Ministry of Defence’s existing budget, which is already overspent. Mr. Ainsworth is likely to announce cuts to the existing Harrier and Tornado fighter jet fleet, and a cutback of Nimrod reconnaissance aircraft. The final decision will end months of tough negotiations over the 2010 spending round. But there is more pain ahead in defence, with a public spending squeeze still to come. ‘Negative picture’
Meanwhile, the spending watchdog, the National Audit Office (NAO), has warned of a £36bn deficit over the next 10 years if the defence budget is not increased. And it criticised the Ministry of Defence for trying to clear the potential deficit with a “save now, pay later” approach. The NAO cited the example of the Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carrier which has been put back to save £450m over four years – but says that will eventually increase costs by £1.12bn. Its report said the cost of the 15 biggest military projects had increased by £1.2bn in 2008-9 alone, and £733m of that was down to deliberate delays. Auditor general Amyas Morse said: “The MoD has a multi-billion pound budgetary black hole which it is trying to fix with a ‘save now, pay later’ approach. “This gives a misleadingly negative picture of how well some major projects in the MoD are managed, represents poor value for money and heightens the risk that the equipment our armed forces require will not be available when it is needed or in the quantities promised.”
Commons public accounts committee chairman Edward Leigh said the MoD was “building up trouble for the future.” Shadow defence secretary Liam Fox added: “This constant failure to contain cost and keep to timetable means that taxpayers’ money is being wasted and our armed forces are being denied vital equipment which has meant a reduction in capability. It is shambolic.” Defence minister Quentin Davies said the government was committed to the aircraft carriers, but they would not be needed as quickly as they were being built and delaying them would have no cost for defence capability. He said the Conservatives were “clearly planning to cancel them if they get into power.” He said it might cost more to delay projects but it was “an inescapable fact of life” that the defence budget had to be managed from year to year.
On Monday, Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced £150m would be spent on tackling improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan. Some 122 of the 237 British service personnel who have died in Afghanistan have been killed by explosives, most of them IEDs. The body of the soldier who became the 100th British fatality in Afghanistan this year, Lance Corporal Adam Drane, is to be returned to the UK later. Meanwhile, the first of 500 extra British troops to be deployed to Afghanistan have arrived in the country. The soldiers from The 1st Battalion the Royal Welsh (Royal Welsh Fusiliers) landed at 0505 local time (0035 GMT).