We could save billions by cutting the military, but in a fragile world we need strong armed forces

It pays to be financially cautious, but we must be able to protect ourselves as a country


For a period, my job was to roam around Parliament, digging up stories, trying to find scandal.

It was a dream role, and there was no shortage of material. One of my best sources was the Public Accounts Committee, more specifically its reports and the studies sent to it by the National Audit Office (NAO).

I soon learned the auditors’ code. They would never say a project was outrageous or a total waste of public expenditure; their language was far more couched than that.

Ever since, I’ve kept an eye on their investigations and findings. Yesterday, the NAO produced a report, “Army 2020”, on the planned restructuring of the British Army. The idea is to cut back on regulars and boost the reservists.

When I read the spending watchdog’s conclusion that the plans carry “significant risks” to the Army’s operational capability; that the decision was taken without “appropriate testing of feasibility”; and the Ministry of Defence measures could “significantly affect the Army’s ability to achieve its objectives and value for money”, alarm bells do not just ring, they scream.

This is as tough as it gets from the NAO. In ever-so-polite Whitehall, protocol demands that the watchdog’s reports must be cleared with the department before they’re released. Why, I’ve never understood – it seems to me that it’s a recipe for something being written by committee, for clauses being taken out and a more watered-down, neutered version being inserted.

So, when I see that publication was delayed because of wrangling with the MoD, those screaming alarms are further amplified. The NAO wanted to say something else but was prevented from doing so. What? We should be told.

Under the plan, the regular Army will reduce from 102,000 in 2010 to 82,000 in 2018; while the reserves will go up from 15,000 to 30,000. This is intended to produce a £10.6bn saving.

The danger here is obvious. Putting a red line through troop numbers is a relatively instant process. It’s hard, and doubtless carries with it plenty of emotion, especially if a historic regiment is affected, but the act of trimming is straightforward.

Slower, and more difficult, potentially, is recruitment. It takes longer, and there’s no guarantee the right candidates will emerge.

When the two are linked, the danger is obvious. So it’s proved with the Army where recruiting reservists to replace the regulars is lagging behind. The result is a possible shortfall in the Army’s overall size and serious doubts about our military effectiveness.

Then, when I learn from the NAO that the hirings are in the hands of Capita, the outsourcing company, and its role is dependent upon the MoD supplying the right IT system, panic truly sets in. Sure enough, the Ministry failed to deliver the correct IT in March last year. Now the Army is having to incur increased operational costs of about £1m a month ahead of the new system’s launch.

All this, let us not forget, when the world continues to prove on a daily basis that it’s a very fragile place. To Syria was added Ukraine. Now, seemingly not long after we pull out, Iraq again raises a terrifying spectre. Does anyone seriously not think the same will occur in Afghanistan once Nato forces finally leave?

I’m not a militarist… but. Talk to any of our senior ex-Army officers and their doubts about what is occurring are clear. Again, like the NAO, they’re well-schooled in the art of speaking cautiously, but in conversation with one of them recently, his demeanour and the angle of his eyebrows said everything.

Ideally, I’d like to see our Army cut still further. But that could only occur if the world became safer, which it palpably is not, and if we ceased to carry out any global policing role, not fulfilling our obligations to Nato and ceasing to have influence. Arguably, that is not a bad stance to adopt, but it’s not the one our elected leaders have chosen.

They’re trying to have their cake and eat it, for Britain to go on flexing its international muscle, while not spending the money to achieve that strength. And, in saving the cash, they’ve embarked on a policy of cutting while at the same time recruiting cheaper, less-qualified personnel.

The NAO would never say it in these terms, but I will do so for them: this approach is mad and bad, and must stop.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Shine Night Walk 2014 - 'On the night' volunteer roles

Unpaid Voluntary Work : Cancer Research UK: We need motivational volunteers to...

Accounts Assistant (Accounts Payable & Accounts Receivable)

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Accounts Assistant (Accounts Payable...

Senior IT Trainer - Buckinghamshire - £250 - £350 p/d

£200 - £300 per day: Ashdown Group: IT Trainer - Marlow, Buckinghamshire - £25...

Education Recruitment Consultant- Learning Support

£18000 - £30000 per annum + Generous commission scheme: AER Teachers: Thames T...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Why black cats make amazing pets, and take good selfies too

Felicity Morse
Children of a bygone era  

Kids these days aren't what they used to be — they're a lot better. So why the fuss?

Archie Bland
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star