Ever since the war the military chiefs have managed to run their empire with remarkably little interference from outside. We have run down our overseas commitments, cut the number of ships in the Navy, amalgamated our squadrons - but the great bureaucracy has survived more or less intact. We manage to spend pounds 23bn a year on defence, yet until a few weeks ago knew very little about the way that vast sum was spent.
That was until your Front Line First White Paper last month. Previous defence reviews had simply chipped a little bit away from everywhere, ensuring squeals from just about every corner of the defence establishment and bluster from backbench Tory MPs. Your latest review, however, was different, because you asked a young group of officers and Ministry of Defence officials to break down the sums. And your team found unbelievable waste.
For example, it costs pounds 300,000 to train a bandsman at the Royal Marines Music School in Deal (one-third as much as training a fighter pilot); pounds 15,000 each to recruit soldiers through special centres, rather than pounds 300 through the local JobCentre. Your men also discovered that more than 70 per cent of spare parts in stock were never issued. Yet during the Gulf war the only way we could field our tanks was by cannibalising parts from every working tank in Germany.
The trouble was - despite the common-sense element of the review - the defence chiefs could still muster some stout defences. So we have had charges that the MoD could achieve what the IRA failed to do (close the music school at Deal), or that centuries of history were being wiped out with the amalgamation of Highland regiments. To counter this, you needed an example of the way the defence chiefs were feathering their own nests. Hey presto, out it popped, with the exposure of the lavish lifestyles of the 77 top brass.
There was the pounds 563,000 refurbishing for the pounds 2m mansion of a field marshal posted to Brussels, the pounds 121,000 a year spent by our C-in-C in Cyprus on his household and servants (why on earth are we in Cyprus anyway?) and perhaps most mind-boggling of all, that pounds 50,000 for kennels for the five dogs of the CO of the Dartmouth Naval College.
What a gift] Now you can cut millions from the budget simply by getting rid of a string of mansions. And next time you are assailed by a defence chief protesting about the cuts you are imposing, tell him that his pooches must manage with baskets in the kitchen, just like everyone else's.
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