A spending squeeze imposed on the military by Gordon Brown forced ministers to impose cuts on the Ministry of Defence (MoD) while troops were deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, the department's top official has said.
Sir Bill Jeffrey, head civil servant at the MoD since 2005, told the Iraq inquiry that problems persisted within the department because of the growing costs of operations overseas and as a result of spending restrictions placed on it by Mr Brown shortly after the March 2003 invasion. "The upward pressures have meant that in successive years, I and ministers, we have had to think hard about what we could cut," Sir Bill said.
"On one level, it's the business that all Government departments have to do when resources are tight. But it certainly felt more than quite tight over the last period." Mr Brown used his appearance before the inquiry last week to insist that he had agreed to all the spending demanded by military chiefs during his time as Chancellor between 1997 and 2007, as well as during his time at No.10. However, his claims were immediately disputed by senior military officials. Lord Guthrie, the former head of the armed forces, spoke out after Mr Brown's evidence on Friday, claiming the Prime Minister had been "disingenuous" in suggesting that British troops had been given all the equipment they had requested.
Sir Bill confirmed that a "serious dispute" had been provoked between the Treasury and the MoD in 2004 as a result of accounting changes imposed by Mr Brown. The clampdown meant that military spending on new equipment had to be curtailed. "That undoubtedly left the department with a significant problem because the estimated cost of the programme exceeded the budget," Sir Bill said.
He added that when he took up his post in 2005, "that pressure in the defence budget was still there". The civil servant also admitted that troops were sent into the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with "an outdated stock of armoured vehicles".
The Snatch Land Rovers, used by the army, were severely criticised for providing soldiers with inadequate protection against roadside bombs. Following Sir Bill's evidence, Liam Fox, the shadow Defence Secretary, called for Mr Brown to be recalled to Sir John Chilcot's inquiry to "clarify his evidence".Reuse content