Going, going, gone: The MoD’s disappearing assets

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By a Newsnet reporter

A Parliamentary question from SNP Westminster Leader and Defence spokesperson Angus Robertson MP has revealed that the Ministry of Defence has sold off or disposed of more than £17 billion worth of assets in just three years. 

According to Mr Robertson the figures provided in response to his question suggest that the MoD is in the process of the biggest defence asset sell-off since demobilisation after the Second World War.

In just three years the MoD has sold-off or junked in excess of £17bn worth of land, property and equipment – including vital capabilities such as the Nimrod maritime reconnaissance fleet.  The cost of the decommissioned Nimrod fleet alone was £3.8 billion.  The value of assets sold has spiralled from £2.5 billion in 2008-09 to £11.4 billion in 2010-11.  

In 2008-9 the MoD sold off land and buildings valued at £74 million, by 2010-11 the value of the properties sold by the department had shot up to £943 million.  Equipment with a value of £647 million was sold in 2008-9, by 2010-11 the value of equipment sold off or disposed of by the military had increased to £7,535 million, a rise of almost 1200%.   

It remains unclear how much the MoD recouped from the sale of defence assets, and to what extent the public purse has been shortchanged, but there is evidence that the amounts received by the MoD in exchange for UK defence assets fall well short of the public money that went to pay for them in the first place.  

The MoD recently decommissioned the famous Harrier jump jets, and sold them on to the US Navy.  The planes had recently undergone refits at UK public expense.

Speaking of how good the deal was from the point of view of the USA, Rear Admiral Mark Heinrich of the US navy, chief of supply corps, said: “We’re taking advantage of all the money the Brits have spent on them.  It’s like we’re buying a car with maybe 15,000 miles on it.  These are very good platforms.”

Scotland in particular is being short-changed by the MoD, according to Mr Robertson, who pointed out that in Scotland there is a defence underspend of £5.6 billion.  The figure relates to the difference between the share Scots pay in taxation to UK defence spending, and what is actually spent on or in Scotland.  These figures do not include spending on active engagements such as the war in Afghanistan, which is paid for out of UK reserve funds.

Despite a disproportionate number of Scots enlisting in the armed forces, especially the army, recent figures show that – discounting units on active service – a mere 2.7% of regular army units are now based in the country.  

Mr Robertson called on the MoD to clarify the amounts that the MoD had recouped from the sale of defence assets, and to specify how much money had been lost to the public purse.  He said:

“The MoD appears to be in the process of a massive fire sale, perhaps the biggest sell-off since demobilisation after the Second World War.

“In just three years they have sold-off or junked in excess of £17bn worth of defence assets.

“We need to look very closely at this disposal because the stated value of the assets does not mean that the MoD has actually recovered that amount of money. We need further clarity from the Defence Secretary on these details.

“The scrapped Nimrod programme is the ultimate example – at least £3.8bn wasted on one project alone. But it is not just assets that we are losing, but operational capabilities as well. Without Nimrod we now have very limited maritime reconnaissance capabilities.

“The MoD’s capabilities and footprint are quickly shrinking, and no more so than in Scotland where there has been more than 11,000 defence job losses and a mammoth £5.6bn defence underspend over the last decade.

“As the MoD have recently confirmed, less than 3 per cent of regular army units are now stationed in Scotland – that is just 4 of 148 major regular army units.

“The UK Government is creating enormous uncertainty for our defence communities.

“In contrast to the need for a well funded conventional defence presence in Scotland, the reality is completely the opposite. For over a decade Scotland has been short changed, losing more than 11,000 defence jobs and enduring a £5.6 billion underspend.”