Fox under pressure on £4.3bn of mystery “non frontline savings”

Jim Murphy has urged the Government to come clean on how it would achieve "at least £4.3 billion of non frontline savings". The MOD is unable to account for its numbers.

Pressure mounted today on the Government to come clean about how it would achieve “at least £4.3 billion of non frontline savings” as a Daily Telegraph exclusive revealed that confidence and morale in the armed forces was “badly damaged” by the Strategic Defence and Security Review.

In an article on page 27 of the print edition of The Times (not available online), Tom Coghlan reports that:

“Jim Murphy, the Shadow Defence Secretary, accused the Government of “wishful thinking and political expediency” in coming up with £4.3 billion of non-frontline savings in its strategic review. He said that no work had yet been done on where savings would come from, and that frontline services would have to be cut.”

It follows a strongly-worded letter from Shadow Defence secretary Jim Murphy to Chief Secretary Danny Alexander. Mr Murphy writes:

“The Government has outlined in the Strategic Defence and Security Review that it will make £4.3bn non-frontline savings but it is now clear that this figure does not withstand examination. It is hard not to conclude that the Government arrived at this figure through a mixture of wishful thinking and political expediency.

“On p.31, the Review states that the Government has “identified new non-front line savings of at least £4.3 billion over the Spending Review period” and goes on to specify nine areas where savings will be made. I enclose a copy of the relevant section.  Answers to Parliamentary Questions, however, demonstrate that work has not begun on costing these specific areas and it is unclear on how the £4.3bn figure has been settled on.

Page 32 of the Strategic Defence and Security Review identified “key areas” which would help achieve “new non-front line savings of at least £4.3 billion over the Spending Review period.” This included:

• “reductions in the civilian workforce and non-front line service personnel” but a Parliamentary Answer to Labour’s Kevan Jones from Defence Equipment Minister Peter Luff revealed that it was “too early to say” what proportion would come from redundancy rather than “natural wastage and voluntary early release“.

• “rationalisation of the defence estate” but Peter Luff told Kevan Jones that “no decisions have yet been made

• “efficiencies and improvements in military training, including the increased use of simulators for air-crew and Army live firing” but Armed Forces Minister Nick Harvey told Kevan Jones that “Detailed costing has not yet been carried out and the information requested is therefore not currently available.

• saving significant amounts from contract re-negotiations with defence industry” but Peter Luff told Kevan Jones “any liabilities as a result of contract cancellation or amendment will only emerge from this process [of commercial negotiations with suppliers in the coming months]” and “it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the likely impact on personnel employed on any of the programmes affected“.

• “cutting over £300 million per year by 2014/15 of service and civilian personnel allowances” but Michael Dugher was told by Minister for Defence Personnel, Michael Robathan, that “the final shape of the package will depend on further work“.

• “reductions in our spend on commodities, including substantial savings on food, energy and professional services” but Robathan told Kevan Jones that the department had “yet to finalise its plans to reduce expenditure in these areas

Murphy goes on to call for the Government to “publish the details of the savings that have been identified in each of the nine non-front line areas” and asks, “In the event that the projected savings in these areas does not total £4.3bn, what guarantees can you provide that savings will not be made elsewhere to fill this gap which would affect front line operations?”

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