All the recent talk about Defence spending has got me thinking. The Ministry of Defence website has a very interesting statistics section, accesible here.
There quite a few interesting nuggets of information to be found.
In 2009, Defence spending totalled £38.6bn. This was the fourth highest area of spending, after Work and Pensions, Health, and Children, Schools and Families. We spent 2.2% of our GDP on Defence, which although slightly more than most European countries, it is much less than the USA at 3.9%.
Of this budget, £2bn went to running the Navy, £6.7bn on the Army and £2.7bn to the RAF. £14.6bn was allocated to equipment purchasing, which is held separate from each of the armed forces. Over £7bn is spent on central administration, estates and various agencies. Clearly, the Army is relatively cheap in terms of the equipment that it needs, compared to the Navy and RAF, but due to its high numbers and cost of training it is more expensive to run. Also, interesting that a fifth of the MOD’s annual budget disappears in ‘central administration’ – more than it costs to run the Army.
That the MOD keeps the equipment purchasing pot separate is not surprising. That way they can control what gets bought, and make the services squabble with each other. Although the idea of the MOD intergrating the 3 services was to encourage them to work together better, it seems to create more distrust and rivalry. Civil Servants are quite happy to force officers to fight for resources then complain when they speak out of turn. The bulk of the equipment purchasing fund seems to go to the Navy and the RAF – reportedly only 10% reaches the Army.
That £7bn is spent by the MOD on administration is nothing short of scandalous. Surely that could quite easily be trimmed back. £7bn is half what we spend each year on buying new warships, jets and tanks. Think of the equipment that a £1bn or £2bn saving would buy. Money should reach where it is most needed, not the Whitehall Mandarins. Streamlining would save money and make the services more effective.
On 1 April 2009 the UK Armed Forces stood at 188,370 personnel. The Royal Navy 38,340, the Army 106,460 and the RAF 43,565. This would account partly for why the cost of running the Army is so high, due to its manpower. For the first time in 5 years, more people joined than left. 6.5% of personnel are from ethnic minority backgrounds, and 9.5% are female. The armed services have 5,785 officers of Lieutenant-Colonel rank or above. Are the armed forces overloaded with senior officers? Quite possibly, there is an often-quoted example that the Royal Navy has more Admirals than major surface ships. How many Rear-Admirals, Brigadiers or Air Commodores are working behind desks in indecipherable Defence agencies?
The armed forces are almost certain to be among the biggest losers in the scramble to make savings in the next few years. But it shouldnt simply be a case of cuts. In 2007-8 £169bn was spent on social security – work, pensions and benefits. How much of this is being paid to people who could work, should work, etc? Even just a tiny percentage would pay for a few more Type 45 Destroyers that we badly need.