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Government's Chaotic Management of its Defence Responsibilities is an Indictment of Short-Term Thinking

Posted: 01/10/2011 00:00

Over the last ten years, Prospect has examined the deficit between foreign policy and defence delivery and has expressed its concern that the absence of an industrial strategy could only lead to a damaging spiral of decline.

It is no consolation that much of what we said has come painfully true and that the next decade looks to be riven with still more uncertainty.

In representing over 8,000 specialists in both the Ministry of Defence and private sector defence companies, Prospect is uniquely placed to comment on the turmoil in the defence sector. We have raised our concerns over defence by establishing a network of academic contacts, publishing reports, organising seminars and getting our message across to the media and public.

At a time when the UK is crying out for jobs, the coalition government's lack of conviction over the future of defence manufacturing and its technology base is a desperate indictment of short-term thinking. Whatever criticisms were levelled at the previous government on equipment over-spend, the fact that it had committed to coherent defence industrial and scientific strategies meant it had a clear view on the need for a core of on-shore capacity.

Those strategies set parameters to which industry could plan and, if necessary, allow decline to be managed, so avoiding the current chaotic shedding of capacity.

Future governments will be forced to buy abroad and we can only hope that we will be in the right place in the queue when it comes to foreign companies fulfilling our orders.

Recent reports from our representatives illustrate how defence companies are making irretrievable cuts to skills and capacity. For instance, BAE needs a commitment from the government over investment in the Typhoon programme, especially for its electronic radar system. This would ensure the forward planning to secure both staff and skills capability and would match overseas competition. There is also an urgent requirement to know whether there is any commitment to a sustained UK manufacturing ability for an unmanned aircraft systems capability.

In parallel, this year's huge over-subscription for redundancy terms at MOD - 14,000 volunteers applied for 3,000 places - demonstrates the state of morale there.

The department seems prepared to shed whatever numbers it can find funding for. This makes a mockery of any pretence that it can be an intelligent customer to a well co-ordinated industrial base. The instability generated by huge reductions in civilian staffing cannot be the basis for a fit-for-purpose MOD.

Prospect believes it must give voice to the consequences of the current direction of government policy. At present, the government explains away defence decisions on the grounds of needing to balance the books. But we must press ministers on what shape the UK defence sector will look like in ten years' time.

It would be unwise to have a MOD so shorn of capacity and competence that it places the UK at risk because it cannot manage its supply chain; damaging to the UK if we lose any more defence manufacturing capacity and demoralising to UK citizens if we cannot respond to the security challenges of the day and support our armed forces accordingly.

Visit www.prospect.org.uk or contact graham.stewart@prospect.org.uk

 

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