Finally, this week the Prime Minister gave a speech which seemingly got little coverage, but which was designed to set out his vision of where the UK sits in the world, particularly with reference to economic growth (https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/plan-for-britains-success-speech-by-the-prime-minister) Without in any way expressing a view on the political context of the speech, there were some interesting lines about how he saw the continued role of the UK diplomatic and military presence across the world. These included:
What it does demonstrate though is that the spending review and the SDSR will seem to work on several key assumptions – limited equipment budget growth, no headcount reduction to the armed forces as a result of spending cuts and a continued global military presence, including deployments East of Suez. The challenge is how to take these general views and merge them into a spending package which is credible – while headcount reductions are politically difficult they do save a lot of money – the personnel component is the most expensive part of the budget, and cutting a few thousand troops will save hundreds of millions over 10 years in both real terms of reduced salaries, but also fewer equipment buys, fewer barracks and so on. If you wish to maintain the equipment budget, and also troop levels, then something else has to give – R&D, estates, allowances, civil service numbers etc. The question is firstly is there enough scope in Defence to provide this level of spending cuts without impacting on the front lines (one only has to look at the 1994 Front Line First review to realise that protecting the front line at the expense of the rear echelons can be immensely difficult), while at the same time what happens if the required savings targets cannot be met through this alone?