The era of defence budget cuts is over, Boris Johnson has declared, as he announced an extra £16.5bn is to be ploughed into protecting the UK in a “perilous” global security climate.
But the bean counters in Whitehall may have cause for concern, with the country arguably having a chequered recent past when it comes to defence spending projects. Here are some notable examples:
The ministry of defence’s poor management of the country’s nuclear weapons programme led to costs soaring by £1.35bn and lengthy delays, a damning report by the government spending watchdog found earlier this year.
The National Audit Office’s report, released in January, looked at three security sites in England – known as the Defence Nuclear Estate – establishing that infrastructure projects faced delays of between one and six years. Costs increased by £1.35bn, the report disclosed, with nearly half of the sum down to construction starting too early and subsequently having to be revised.
Civil servants had relied on the work of “monopolistic” suppliers, meaning that contracts could not be terminated if poor performance was identified, the report said. The MoD said at the time that it was carefully examining the conclusions but was committed to strengthening the management of the nuclear programme.
At £6.2bn, the expected cost of two aircraft carriers being built for the Royal Navy is nearly double the original estimate, it emerged in late 2013.
When the project was approved in 2007, costs were put at £3.65bn. But the then defence secretary, Philip Hammond, confirmed in November 2013 to MPs in the House of Commons that the new figure had been arrived at “after detailed analysis of costs already incurred and future costs and risks over the remaining seven years to the end of the project”.
Prior to the increased cost being confirmed, Labour’s then shadow defence secretary, Vernon Coaker, labelled it as the “the latest in a series of financial fiascos in the MoD under David Cameron”. He added: “The defence secretary’s claim that he has balanced the MoD books looks increasingly nonsensical. Britain deserves better than this shambolic approach to our nation’s defence.”
It was meant to be at the heart of the reorganisation of the army, but last year it transpired that the Warrior armoured vehicle programme upgrade was three and a half years behind schedule and £227m over budget.
Initially projected to cost £1.3bn, the vehicles’ upgrade – which is set to extend their lifespan by 15 years – was due to be completed by March 2020. But, in a letter to the head of the Commons public accounts committee last January, Stephen Lovegrove, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence, reportedly set out details of the forecasted delay and overspend.
The Ministry of Defence admitted last March, when details of the overspend emerged, that “there have been initial challenges to overcome”, adding that “we have brought this project back on track”. But Labour’s then shadow defence secretary, Nia Griffith, said the government’s “complete failure to manage this programme properly is putting this important capability at risk”.