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More Bang For the Buck

How we can get better value from the defence budget

Spending on defence over the last 12 years has not matched the demands made on our armed forces, and the equipment programme is underfunded by nearly £35 billion, writes Antonia Cox in More bang for the buck: how we can get better value from the defence budget, to be published on Monday 1 February by the Centre for Policy Studies.

In a Foreword to the pamphlet, former Chief of the Defence Staff Lord Guthrie states:

“This paper is an alarm call. It should make everyone in the Ministry of Defence realise that they cannot go on as they are. The shameful waste and delay which characterise the sorry history of equipment procurement should never have been tolerated. In the past, such indulgence was wrong. Now it is both wrong and unaffordable.”

Both major parties are committed to a Strategic Defence Review following the general election. But Antonia Cox argues that besides the hard choices to be made in an SDR, the MoD must show that it has learned the lessons of past failures in military procurement and that we can get better value from our equipment budget. In particular:

  • The limits of European defence integration must be recognised, in the light of the fragmented nature of Europe’s defence industry and the weak outlook for defence spending in many countries. The lessons of European collaborative projects, including the Eurofighter and Type 45 destroyer, must be learnt.
  • More equipment must be bought on a military or commercial off the shelf basis to keep costs down, as countries such as Australia are now accepting.
  • The "conspiracy of optimism" must be tackled. The MOD, the military and industry over-order and under-cost, in the knowledge that once in the equipment plan, cancellation of programmes is rare. The supply chain of major contractors must be opened up to bring in more innovation.

The public wants to see service personnel to be properly equipped. That is more important than local industrial considerations. The good news is that by learning the lessons of previous failures in defence procurement, it should be possible to deliver more for less.


This is urgent. Already the Chief of the General Staff Sir David Richards and the First Sea Lord Sir Mark Stanhope are publicly asserting the claims of their services, amid reports of emergency cuts planned by the Ministry of Defence. The Defence Secretary says Britain faces decades of conflict in distant places, while Afghanistan’s President Karzai has warned that his country needs foreign support for 15 years.

Antonia Cox concludes:

“By implementing these changes, the government can make the political case for prioritising, or at the very least protecting, defence spending. It can show not only that the UK should shoulder its share of responsibilities for its own security, but also, through intelligent reform, that it can afford to do so.”


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NOTES:

1. More bang for the buck: how we can get better value from the defence budget by Antonia Cox is published by the Centre for Policy Studies on Monday 1 February 2010.

2. Antonia Cox was a financial analyst, banking correspondent for The Daily Telegraph and a leader writer for The Evening Standard. She is the Conservative Party candidate for Islington South & Finsbury at the next General Election and is author of The Best Kit (Policy Exchange, 2004).

Antonia Cox - Monday 1st February 2010