This week’s main UK defence news has once again been dominated by events in the Ukraine and the related debate regarding defence spending. During questioning by the Parliamentary Liaison Committee, Prime Minister David Cameron MP unexpectedly announced that the UK would deploy 75 troops to Ukraine to support the training of Ukrainian military personnel. During subsequent questioning in the House of Commons, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon MP said that the UK is considering “further requests” for support from Ukraine, but will not send combat troops. Mr Fallon also stated that British personnel would be based around Kiev or in western Ukraine, away from the fighting in eastern Ukraine.
Unsurprisingly, developments in Ukraine have fed into the continuing deliberation over UK defence expenditure levels. The Daily Telegraph reports that the Chair of the Defence Select Committee, Rory Stewart MP, has warned that it would be a “big mistake” for spending on Britain’s military to fall below the NATO target of two per cent of the national budget. He also said that recent actions by Russia in Ukraine illustrated that spending needed to be maintained as a “symbolic” message to President Vladimir Putin. Meanwhile, The Times has published warnings from senior military and political figures, who say that Britain will lose global credibility and send a signal of weakness to President Putin if the next government fails to spend at least two per cent of gross domestic product on defence. The FT has also published an editorial calling for both the Conservatives and Labour to pledge to halt the decline in defence spending.
· String of defence contracts signed in advance of pre-election purdah
Question on MDP pensions answered in the House of Commons
This week has seen a further response from the Government concerning MDP pensions following a parliamentary question. Russell Brown MP (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab) asked the Defence Secretary why MDP officers and their colleagues in the DFRS are currently subject to the state pension age; yet their counterparts in the Home Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government can retire up to seven years earlier. In response, Defence Minister Anna Soubry MP (Broxtowe) (Con) said that the MoD was in the process of working with other government departments to resolve the issue, and that she expected to make an announcement “very soon”.
The tabling of this question within the House of Commons defence questions is a product of the DPF’s regular engagement with the Labour defence team, and that of the Defence Fire and Rescue Service. While the Government has again declined to commit to a deadline by which the pensions issue will be resolved, the question puts continued pressure on Ministers to reach a decision. The Federation is continuing to engage with both parliamentarians and journalists to maintain this pressure on Ministers.
String of defence contracts signed in advance of pre-election purdah
Following on from last week’s news of the awarding of a contract to Boeing for the support of the Chinook helicopter fleet, this week has seen a number of further large contracts signed and investment decisions announced by the MoD in advance of the pre-election purdah period, which begins on 30 March. The purdah period regulates the conduct of public bodies (including the Ministry of Defence) in the weeks before an election. Caution is required during this period over decisions on actions with a long-term character and policy decisions on which the newly elected government may take a different view.
The investment decisions this week include:
· A £859m contract being awarded to BEA to continue early work on the Type 26 frigate programme. Under the deal, which moves the programme from the development phase towards the early stages of manufacturing, BAE will begin investing in systems for the first three vessels in the class; these will require long lead times to build including gas turbines engines, diesel generators and steering gear. It will also begin work on on-shore testing facilities for the ships.
· The award of a contract worth £165m to Eurofighter Jagdflugzeug GmbH for the integration of the Brimstone 2 missile into the RAF’s Typhoon fighter aircraft, as well as a number of avionics system upgrades, were confirmed.
· The investment of more than £300 million in RAF Marham was approved in order to fund extensive work on infrastructure and facilities to support the new F-35B fighter. This will create up to 1000 new additional jobs directly in the construction phase and a further 700 in the supply chain.
Further spending decisions can be expected in the coming weeks.
Defence Secretary announces clampdown on defence contractors
The Times reports that Britain’s leading defence contractors have been told that the days when they could include expenses for croquet matches and a trip to the races in multibillion-pound contracts are over. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon MP has said that Britain’s biggest arms contractors will face a “robust challenge” from the MoD in an attempt to stamp out the “abuses” of the past. Mr Fallon is implementing the work of a new value-for-money watchdog, the independent Single Source Regulations Office, for defence contracts where, for national security or specialist industrial reasons, there is no procurement competition. Mr Fallon’s comments echo those of Philip Hammond MP, his predecessor, who, during the move towards new single source regulations, was presented with a range of abuses that his ministry subsequently leaked. They included the £25,000 cost of flowers and catering for a commissioning ceremony; £24,000 for a production run of souvenir mugs; and the £50,000 annual cost of anticipated car accidents during a contract — all charged to the taxpayer by unnamed contractors.
National Audit Office criticise MoD over failed privatisation effort
The Independent reports that according to a report published this week by the National Audit Office (NAO), the MoD wasted £33m on botched attempts to semi-privatise the £14bn budget agency that buys military equipment. However, the NAO also stated that the process had “yielded some useful learning”. The Government had wanted to bring in a consortium of private sector experts to run the Bristol-based Defence Equipment & Support, but abandoned the reforms in late 2013 as only one group, led by the US engineer Bechtel, was interested in bidding.
British soldier who went to fight ISIS is returned home
The Daily Mail reports that a serving British soldier who went to fight ISIS was flown home this week after he was found near the border between Syria and Iraq. The 19-year-old private serving with the 2nd Battalion of The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment left for the region last week after telling his parents he wanted to help the Kurdish Peshmerga. He was the first British soldier to have gone to fight against the terror group and his disappearance fuelled fears that he could have been a prime beheading target for Islamist jihadists. The soldier, who is now said to be ‘safe and well’, was in Dubai on leave from his base in Cyprus when he decided to travel to the war-torn country. As the soldier was not considered AWOL, it is not clear whether he will face disciplinary action.
Tasers drawn on '400 children in 2013'
The BBC reports that official figures have shown that more than 400 children had tasers drawn on them by police in England and Wales in 2013. The Home Office Taser database, seen by BBC Radio 5 live, shows a 38 per cent increase on 2012 in the number of children who had a taser aimed at them. Tasers were fired 37 times at 10 to 17-year-olds. The figures, obtained through a Freedom of Information request, show the youngest person to have a Taser aimed at them was 11, while the youngest person fired on was 14. The oldest person to have one pointed at them was 85, and the oldest person actually fired on was 82.