Security risk?

The defence industry has warned the government it risks undermining the UK’s high-tech economy and its security if it imposes cuts in an effort to curtail soaring national debt. Siobhan Wagner reports

The defence industry has warned the government it risks undermining the UK’s high-tech economy and its security if it imposes cuts in an effort to curtail soaring national debt.

The government is planning to review spending on Ministry of Defence projects next year and defence spending has been highlighted by some as a prime source of overall savings.

Ian Godden, chief executive of the Society of British Aerospace Companies (SBAC), said Britain’s defence industry makes up 10 per cent of the UK’s manufacturing and engineering economy.

‘If you cut it by 10 per cent you will cut two to three per cent out of the engineering and skill base – the very thing the government says we should be increasing,’ he said.

Godden added that the defence sector is a net export-based industry. ‘So cutting here versus some other places will have a major drag effect on the economy,’ he said. ‘This is going to reduce the ability of Britain to come out of the recession and to become an export-led recovery.’

According to the Treasury, defence spending as a percentage of GDP has been cut in half compared to 20 years ago. The SBAC believes increasing defence spending by £1-2bn a year would be enough to support major defence projects, such as aircraft carriers and the Trident nuclear deterrent, as well as more frontline troops and more equipment for them.

The Trident programme, which has an estimated lifetime cost of £20 billion, has received criticism from both anti-war activists and budget hawks. A new report released through the liberal think-tank Institute for Public Policy Research proposed axing the Trident programme to save defence costs.

The authors of the report included Lord Guthrie, former head of the British Army, Lord Ashdown, former leader of the Liberal Democrats, and Lord Robertson, former secretary-general of Nato.

Godden said the cost of Trident is not as dramatic as some believe. ‘Trident will cost £20 billion but that’s over a long period of time, not over one year,’ he added.

Godden said funding projects such as Trident is the only way to ensure the UK is ready for future warfare.

‘There is this wonderful assumption that the next generation of warfare is going to be like Afghanistan,’ he said. ‘We’ve fallen in this trap before by trying to project what our warfare will be in 10 years’ time based on what we’re currently fighting.

‘The assumption that we will not have some larger-scale defence requirement for the country or a substantial expeditionary force of the type we had in the Falklands in the future is a brave assumption and in my opinion dangerous.’

Godden added that the funding is the only way to fully prepare the UK for current threats. ‘Threats don’t go away in recessions,’ he said. ‘If anything they might increase during economic difficulty and therefore the demand is probably as great as it ever was before this recession.’

Siobhan Wagner