COMMENT: A Short 'Sigh Of Relief' For Defence

"This money is about allowing defence and the forces to deliver on current plans, not to make new ones," writes James Hirst.


By Forces News Defence correspondent, James Hirst

When the Chancellor announced a £1bn cash injection for defence, he dug the department out of a financial hole... For now.

This money is about allowing defence and the forces to deliver on current plans, not to make new ones.

About two-thirds of the money will be swallowed up by spiralling costs in the Dreadnought programme, the submarines that will in a few decades carry Britain’s nuclear deterrent.

It was those over-runs that led to rumours of new forces job cuts, or that the amphibious ships HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion could be axed.

WATCH: Crunching the defence budget numbers 

The Defence Secretary must have known at least some of this money was coming when he announced at his party conference that Bulwark and Albion were safe.

All the rumours can be consigned to history, but only for now, because the budget black hole opens up again in less than two years.

The Defence Secretary expects to complete his Defence Review, the Modernising Defence Programme, by the end of the year. 

It now seems hard to imagine it will bring any significant shake-up.

That’s because in the spring there will be a new Public Spending Review setting the budgets of all government departments up to the mid-2020s.

And that will mean another Defence Review… If there are to be changes, it’ll be that which makes them.

But the overall tone of Philip Hammond’s budget might be more important than this one-off cash boost.

Amid all his talk about bringing austerity to an end, some commentators noticed that he’d quietly dropped any target date to close the government’s deficit and balance the budget.

The implication is that he may be prepared to spend with borrowing, as well as taxes, for quite some years to come.

That won’t mean defence can expect a huge handout, but if it does ask for more money, the fight might not be quite as hard.

But some aspects of this are largely out of the hands of the Defence Secretary, and even of the Chancellor.

Future defence spending largely depends on the state of the economy, on growth, and that is very dependent on the many unanswered questions of Brexit.

Defence has been given a breathing space and it will include a sigh of relief, but only a short one.