Friday, 20 March 2015

The cuts are coming

One basic rule that will always set you in good stead when listening to politicians is this; believe nothing. 

Don't believe the promises. Don't believe the numbers. Don't believe the rhetoric. It's an unfortunate fact that politicians long ago, as in since the dawn of time, gave up on the idea of what was best for their country. Politicians of all eras are at any one time caught up in one of the three stages of politics; expanding power, consolidating power, or clinging to power. They will say and do pretty much whatever it takes to achieve these ends. We all know this. If you don't believe this is how politics works and still believe that there are "some good politicians in parliament" then I strongly suggest you stop kidding yourself. You might say I'm very cynical on the subject but then politicians have had many, many opportunities to prove me wrong and reverse this trend. They have singularly failed to do so at every turn. Case in point is the SNP, who for years have vigorously opposed nuclear weapons on Scottish soil and yet are already back tracking on this issue at Olympic gold medal speed now that they sniff the opportunity to do a political deal with Labour in the event of a hung parliament.

And thus we come to Cameron's promise on no more cuts to the army and the recent budget statement. Lots of people took Cameron for his word when he talked about sticking to 2% of GDP for the armed forces and that the army would face no further cut backs under a future Conservative government. This to me represents a stunning level of naivety (sorry, I can't do the fancy accent characters). Just out of interest let's look at some of Cameron's promises from before the last election. One, a "cast iron guarantee" of a referendum on Europe. Two, no top down reorganisation of the NHS. Three, to balance the budget over the course of the next parliament. Now please point out which of these three election promises were kept? I can wait.

Please don't get bogged down in the ideology of those things. It doesn't matter if you agree with them or not. The issue at hand is promises made that were then broken. The notion that it was all the fault of the Lib Dems because of the coalition is also laughable. So based on this track record, along with the multitude of other U-turns that occurred during the parliament, what basis does anyone have to trust David Cameron when he says that no more cuts are on the way if the Conservatives are re-elected? I would suggest that there is absolutely none. Not a hint of a foundation upon which Mr. Cameron could plausibly claim to be a trustworthy individual.

Then we turn to the budget itself. We know health, education and international aid have all been earmarked for protection from cuts, at least in terms of the face value of their budgets. Given that they all received this "protection" during the course of this parliament, it is reasonable to presume that they would likely retain it going forward. It is also highly unlikely that any other government would target these areas, short of some bizarre turn around where UKIP ends up with absolute control, which is incredibly unlikely. As such any cuts will have to fall elsewhere. And there will have to be cuts. Plenty of them. The coalition is miles off its original target to reduce the public spending deficit by the end of this parliament. Labour are promising a softer decline in public spending to get the books back in balance, but even that would require cuts. Even the most likely course of action, a Labour government propped up by other left wing parties which decides that running a slight budget deficit in the long run isn't such a bad thing if they can spend the money on public goodies (aka the Gordon Brown approach to economics), would still require some cuts to spending. No matter which way you slice the cake, some people are destined to get a smaller portion.

One of those people is the MoD. Don't shake your head, you know it's coming. And if you don't then you had better wake up and smell the coffee pretty soon because it is happening, whether you like it or not. The defence budget is, and always has been, easy prey. It's politically much less volatile to cut than almost all other forms of public spending, with legal aid, agriculture and prisons being perhaps two or three that are easier to get away with. What the armed forces do is typically well away from home, out of sight, out of mind, unlikely in the public's perception to effect them on a day to day basis. It is a ready made pot of money to dip into. Some people will stamp their feet in defiance, but nobody is going to the ballot box to cast a protest vote because they think the UK needs more transport aircraft or minesweepers.

Looking at the economy, growth figures for the UK have been decent, but underlying trends are not great. Despite the governments boasts about rising employment, it's worth noting that the Office for National Statistics (ONS), whose figures are used to trumpet this claim, classifies full time work as anything that goes over 16 hours per week. To me that is a very odd definition of what constitutes full time work. On top of this the number of people turning to self employment to get themselves back into work has grown significantly, but the long term trend of how long these people are able to sustain their self employment is not good. The fact that so many people have had to turn to self employment to get themselves back into work is also a clear indicator of the underlying weakness in the labour market, not least because many of the newly self employed are working on limited hours and for low pay.

Thus any idea that the country will simply grow its way out of this predicament, or that there is some bountiful pot of money sitting on the horizon just waiting to be tapped up, is on very shaky ground. Rising concerns about a lack of growth in Europe and beyond is also likely to hurt the long term prospects of the UK economy. 

The cuts are coming. Prepare thyself.


  1. Chris
    As usual you have hit the nail right on the head. I think the maderins within the MOD are preparing for what is quite simply going to be a bloodbath for the Army, hence why MOD types have been "off record" briefing the Press that you could be looking at a 60,000 Army in the none to distant future.
    To many people have been looking at MPA replacements, Type 26 Purchases, Scout etc and believing that the MOD budget is going to be un touched with the promised 1% uplift in equipment budget comming through. The reality is the MOD budget is looking at another 10 to 15% cut with drastic effects because we truly have got to the bottom of the barel. My own view is we need to modernise the structure of the Army as it is a complete nightmare for example.
    1. Of 32 "Battalions" we have 17 Reigments, not even 2 Battalions a Regiment. Administratively it is a nightmare and costs millions in maintaining cap badges.
    2. The absolute stupidity of locations of Army facilitie/battalions and the lack of strategic planning on the amalgamation of locations. This is not limited to the Army, just look at RAF Odiham sat close to Bracknell, close to London, why oh why hasn't helicopter flying been moved lock stock and barell from Odiham to either Benson or Yeovil then Odiham sold with planning permision for housing. You would make millions from that sale even after the costs of relocation. Another is centering your Airlift resources at Brize Norton which has terrible road and rail links, your main Airbourne Formation based in Colchester and Woodbridge where at the old RAF Bentwaters/Woodbridge you had one of the longest runways in the UK. The number of coaches, Landrovers and trucks you see trundling up and down the A12 to move people to be dispatched via Brize Norton is immense and the cost the same. A number of local coach firm owners have bought some very nice new cars on the profits.
    3. The CASD argument. Why are we spending $4bn a year when our non nucleur forces are going to be cut to ribbons. We need to look at other options such as using Hypersonic Standoff Missiles or other items that can be launched from the UK using either Air Launch or other means. Extending the Vanguard Boats OSD date to get a chepaer option otherwise the CASD cost is going to kill us. Plus we must recognise that with the Support the SNP have in Scotland the long term viability of Faslane is not poor.
    4. Support services. Be it the Royal Core of Logisitcs or Artillery is in a right mess, if as a lyman you can not look at an organisation chart and understand what is going where and why it is not fit for purpose. Simplify and stop worrying about "oh we must have the Minden Battery or F Company operational" look at capabilities, locations of the oranisations to be supported, and the required level of support, not what will do, or what you can get away with or we must have units in Scotland/Wales etal even though there 400miles away from the Army Infantry Soldiers there supposed to support. Simplifications and commonality must be the watch words.
    5. Do it one and do it properly then rebuild morale. Constant slice after slice over 30yrs means morale is in the tank and as evidenced by the Navies lack of ability to recruit engineers people will not select it as a career if after 3yrs your made redundent. Set a plan that is affordable for the next 20yrs not the next 3.
    The Ginge.

    1. Hello Ginge,

      Living in the Colchester area what I would say regards the Parachute regiment is that even though they are a long way from Brize Norton, it's still only a few hours by road. It wouldn't take that long in the event of a crisis developing to shift all the personnel and their main equipment to where it was needed.