MPs back Rifkind on pounds 1bn cuts 'sweetener': Extra defence savings provoke anger

Click to follow
Indy Politics
TORY MPs were angry last night after it emerged the Treasury was seeking to reduce 'sweeteners' for a pounds 2.3bn package of defence cuts by Malcolm Rifkind, the Secretary of State for Defence.

The MPs are backing Mr Rifkind in his fight to retain about pounds 1bn for the front line forces, with new orders, including amphibious assault craft, to soften the blow of base closures and savings on back-up services in the cuts to be announced on 14 July.

But the Treasury is resisting the MoD demands to retain nearly half of the savings. 'Their job is to save public expenditure, while it is our job to ensure that our people have the right equipment and pay structures to do their jobs,' an MoD official said.

The next round of the spending battle will begin on Thursday when the Cabinet endorses the control total of pounds 263bn for overall government spending for next year.

Fears about the future of Rosyth Dockyard, following the loss of 850 jobs at Devonport last week, provoked renewed Opposition demands for a defence review.

'No matter how the Government twists and turns, the impression is being given that the Government has no strategic view about our defences. The policy is being driven by the Treasury,' Menzies Campbell, Liberal Democrat spokesman, said.

The RAF will take the brunt of the next round of between 21,000 and 22,000 defence job cuts under the Front Line First Defence Cost Study, which aims to save pounds 750m a year over three years from 1996-97.

Defence sources have confirmed that, under the Options for Change review due to be completed next year, the RAF will lose a further 6,000 or 7,000 personnel from its planned strength of 75,000. By the end of the decade other cuts could reduce it to 60,000.

But up to three-quarters of those leaving the services could resume similar work in the private sector as those defence tasks are privatised.

A radical review of Britain's reserve forces will probably report at the same time. Procedures for calling up selected reservists to help overstretched regular forces will be made more consistent.

The Defence Cost Study will result in about 14,000 military and 7,000 civilian redundancies. Half the military cuts are expected to fall on the RAF, in engineering, spares and other support areas.

Another key area expected to be privatised is basic flying training. Before the 1960s pilots in the US Air Force receive basic training from civilian organisations, though all training in the air is now done by military personnel.

An RAF flying instructor who is made redundant could, therefore, find himself doing the same job as an employee of a private contractor.

Defence sources are keen to dispel the view that because the Army suffered under Options for Change, that this time it is 'the RAF's turn'. Options for Change was about redefining the Forces' role, size and shape to fit the post-Cold War Era; Front Line First, they broadly agree with the Government, is about doing those tasks more efficiently. The RAF is more intimately linked with associated industry than the Army, and it is not surprising that it comes off worse in studies into different ways of supporting it.