Liam Fox unveils plans for 'leaner' Ministry of Defence

BBC News - Liam Fox unveils plans for 'leaner' Ministry of Defence

Defence Secretary Liam Fox has said the Ministry of Defence will be restructured to become "leaner".

He said it had an "unfunded liability" of £37bn over 10 years and accused Labour of irresponsibly ordering goods without the funds to pay for them.

He ruled out merging the armed forces but suggested the number of senior military officers could be cut.

For Labour Bob Ainsworth said Dr Fox was just "softening us up" for the cuts he had opposed in opposition.

A strategic defence and security review, expected to bring about cuts in equipment and personnel, is due to report in October.

'Dangerous deficit'

In a speech at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, Dr Fox said it had to be the "defence review that puts the Cold War to bed" and to "shape Britain for the 21st century".

He said he had not come into politics to make cuts but said dealing with the "dangerous deficit" would be "difficult and painful".

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Nick Childs

Defence and security correspondent, BBC News


Liam Fox looks like a man under pressure - of money, time, and aspirations.

And his latest remarks underline just how radical a shake-up the Ministry of Defence is facing.

The existing strategic defence and security review is already expected to make big changes to the armed forces.

Now there is to be a review of just how the MoD is run as well.

In a sense, it is no surprise. In opposition, the Conservatives made much of the number of MoD civil servants relative to the size of the Army.

Speculation about cuts in the armed forces has come thick and fast.

Just where the savings will be made, though, is still far from clear, or how they will all fit in an overall strategy.

And Dr Fox insisted that one major imponderable still has to be resolved - he said discussions are ongoing with the Treasury on exactly how to fund the replacement for the Trident nuclear system.
He outlined plans to reorganise the MoD into three areas - policy and strategy, the armed forces and procurement and estates.

And he added there would have to be a cultural shift "which will see a leaner and less centralised organisation".

In opposition, Dr Fox had said he wanted to cut the department's running costs by 25% and criticised the fact it had 85,000 civil servants compared to an army with just 100,000 soldiers.

But asked how many civil service jobs he expected to go, he would not put a figure on it, saying there would be "root and branch reform" and it was "much more complex than that".

"I don't pretend that it will be painless, but I want, at the end of this period of office, for us to look back and say we took the necessary changes for the long-term view."

He said a visit to Afghanistan this week had reminded him that "the prime purpose of what we are doing is to make sure that our armed forces on the front line have everything they need... to carry out their mission successfully and safely".

"That means that the backroom sometimes has to do without to make sure that the front line gets what it wants."

He also said "fundamental assumptions" about tour lengths and intervals for armed personnel had to be challenged "taking into account the varying pressures on our personnel resulting from widely varying missions".

"We need to review all our current practices to ensure that we are using our greatest asset - our people - to the best of our ability."

Trident questions

He said he was not intending to merge the armed forces but would "consider whether the current senior rank structure across the services is appropriate".

"We cannot demand efficiency from the lower ranks while exempting those at the top."

Bob Ainsworth: "He (Liam Fox) is softening us up for cuts he opposed in opposition"
The defence secretary announced that a defence reform unit was being set up under Lord Levene to guide the strategic defence and security review - which is assessing Britain's future defence needs and will report in October.

The new unit will work with the permanent secretary, chief of the defence staff and the service chiefs to find ways of devolving more responsibility for the running of the Services themselves.

Shadow defence secretary Bob Ainsworth said Dr Fox had said nothing of substance: "What he's effectively doing is softening us up for cuts that he opposed in opposition."

He told the BBC he was concerned that not enough time had been put aside for a proper defence review - and it appeared to be "Treasury-led".

"He can't even tell us whether the MoD budget is going to have to pay for the full costs... of the Trident nuclear deterrent."

Previously the Trident renewal costs - estimated at £20bn - were funded directly by the Treasury.

Mr Ainsworth agreed that tour lengths should be looked at but he warned against cutting civilian staff too quickly as it could mean their jobs have to be "backfilled" by uniformed personnel.

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