Tories plan to slash MoD costs by 25%

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Indy Politics

The Tories aim to slash 25 per cent off the cost of running the Ministry of Defence as part of a sweeping review of the UK's military capabilities, it emerged today.

Shadow defence secretary Liam Fox indicated to the Conservative conference that civilian staff at the MoD will be cut to boost troops on the frontline.

The review will take account of the "budgetary constraints" that a future Tory government will operate under, he said.

General Sir Richard Dannatt, the former chief of the general staff, is due to be formally named as an adviser to the Conservatives as David Cameron delivers his rallying end-of-conference speech later today.

Dr Fox accused Labour of creating a "defence black hole" that was not only impacting on operations in Afghanistan but threatened to provide an "on-going defence crisis for years to come".

He told activists in Manchester that after a "decade of neglect," Britain's armed forces found themselves "over-stretched and under-resourced".

Indicating the need for a better balance between civil servants and frontline troops he said that when "Frederick Duke of York was preparing for the Napoleonic threat between 1792 and 1804 he increased the size of the Army from 50,000 to 500,000 - and he did it with 38 staff in Horse Guards.

"Now we have 99,000 in the Army and 85,000 civilians in the MoD. Some things are going to have to change and believe me, they will."

A party spokesman said the aim was to cut 25 per cent from the cost of running the MoD, which accounts for around a fifth of the total defence budget.

"In these tough economic times it's extremely important we make government as efficient as possible," said the spokesman.

"We don't believe that the MoD has got the balance right in terms of the amount of resources it devotes to the frontline and the civil service. On coming into office we intend to conduct a capabilities review to look at how we can get a better balance and achieve savings."

Despite the financial constraints caused by the "economic train crash", Dr Fox warned that it would be "indefensible for Britain to give up its minimum nuclear deterrent" in the face of unknown future risks.

"A future Conservative government will never leave this country open to nuclear blackmail and we will guarantee a round the clock, submarine-based, nuclear deterrent for this country for as long as it is needed."

Dr Fox said that to better define the country's foreign policy objectives and determine the size and shape of the armed forces, a Conservative government "will launch a strategic defence review immediately on coming to office".

It will define Britain's strategic interests, assess the threats to those interests, determine military capabilities and look at specific programmes within the "budgetary constraints which Labour will leave behind".

Regular defence reviews, every four or five years from then on, would help bring stability and predictability to both the armed forces and the defence industry.

Dr Fox accused the Government of bringing Britain "to the brink of a defence crisis of unprecedented scale in modern history" and warned that for too long defence has been at the bottom of its priorities.

Armed Forces Minister Bill Rammell MP said: "The Tories have got a lot of questions to answer about defence policy and they need to be clear about who is really in charge of their plans for our armed forces - Liam Fox or George Osborne?

"Are they both agreed about the need to have a nuclear deterrent? Are the Tories still committed to three extra battalions?

"And when are the Tories going to implement the Forsyth review they commissioned last year? Or is that being shelved too?

"Until we hear it from their shadow chancellor can we really be sure that the Tories are united on defence?"