I am surprised to hear the head of Joint Forces Command, Gen Sir Richard Barrons complain that the armed forces are ill-prepared to defend the UK against a serious military attack. Key capabilities he added had been stripped out to save money. From where I am sitting, the MOD is better funded than just about any other government department. How can this be?
For one thing, the MOD near us in South Gloucestershire, the procurement behemoth Abbey Wood, expands by the day. It continues to recruit like there is tomorrow and its size has doubled to over 8000 staff since opening in 1996. Whilst other government departments have been slimmed down, the MOD takes on many of their staff on vastly higher salaries and regular career opportunities that are but a dream in, say, the DWP. And yet we hear from General Barrons that the department has been pared to the bone. Apparently, we are some 5000 troops short on the frontline. “Key capabilities such as radars, fire control systems and missile stocks are deficient,” added the good general. But everything is fine: there are plenty of people to carry out the administration.
We have a strange culture which means that civil servants are paid vastly more than mere soldiers, sailors and air people (sorry, but this is 2016 and there are women in the service). I am not saying that any of the civil servants carry out worthless jobs but if they are there to procure equipment, at the biggest civil service offices in the west, how come the people actually on the frontline don’t actually have enough of it?
I am not sure that a Russian invasion would be prevented by throwing pens and paperclips so if General Barrons is right – and you have to assume he has a smidgeon of an idea what he is talking about – don’t we seem to have bizarre priorities?
The government, which has cut other departments to the bone, says it is spending vastly more money on defence than ever before. I’d like to think that at least some of it went towards actually defending us rather than on a growing bureaucracy that exists to not procure the weapons we don’t have.