by a Newsnet reporter
Recently it was reported that thousands of service personnel were to be transferred out of Scotland with the closure of the Leuchars and Lossiemouth bases, causing losses of millions of pounds a year to the economies of the affected areas. This week the Ministry of Defence delivered a new blow to employment hopes with the announcement that it was to shed some 7000 extra jobs from civilian staff. The new cut comes on top of the existing commitment to reduce civilian staffing by 25,000.
The MoD claims that the cuts are essential in order to ensure that maximum funding is available for service personnel on active duty and in order to get to grips with the ballooning defence budget. With an annual budget in excess of £32 billion, controlling defence expenditure is seen as key to the government meeting its target to reduce Westminster’s budget deficit.
The defence review now foresees the shedding of some 25,000 civilian jobs before 2015, with a further 7,000 to be lost before 2020.
Unions have reacted with fury to the news of the latest job cuts. Mark Sorwotka, Secretary General of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) which represents many civilian defence workers said: “This is a shameful way to treat everybody, far less the people who serve on the front line, and who support them. Since the defence review announcement in October, PCS has been thwarted at every turn in our attempts to find out where these cuts will be made and what impact it will have on the front line.”
Steve Jary of the Prospect union said: “This announcement is a bolt out of the blue and staff will rightly be appalled at how the department has gone about the process. It was not mentioned last week in the House of Commons by Defence Secretary Liam Fox and has not been subject to any consultation at all.
“We are close to a fundamental breakdown of trust with officials. The department keeps announcing significant changes without any consultation, not even advance notification.
“This is in stark contrast to a useful meeting with Liam Fox last week where he agreed that unions will be fully engaged in the defence reform process set out in Lord Levene’s recent report – especially in securing the cultural and behavioural changes suggested by Levene.”
But an MoD spokesman said London had to close a £38 billion gap in the ministry’s finances by “delivering substantial savings through difficult but necessary decisions.”
“We hope to achieve these efficiencies through natural wastage wherever possible with compulsory redundancy programs serving only as a last resort,” the spokesman said.
Scotland already receives less of defence spending than its share of the UK population would dictate and the share the country receives continues to drop. The defence underspend in Scotland was calculated at £1.259bn in 2007-2008, the latest year for which statistics are available. This had increased from an underspend of £749m in 2002-03.
Between 2002-2008 the total underspend in Scotland comes to £5.622bn – monies which ought to have benefited the Scottish economy and which were contributed by Scottish taxpayers, yet which instead were spent in the South East and South West of England. These are the only two regions where there is a defence overspend in proportion to population. In the case of the South West of England the overspend is a whopping 247%.
According to evidence recently submitted to the strategic defence and security review by Angus Robertson MP, Westminster Scottish National Party Leader and Defence Spokesman:
“Information provided by the MoD shows that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as some English regions, endured significant defence cuts over the last decade. All evidence emerging from the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) suggests that the MoD is set to continuing the trend of concentrating defence manpower, basing and spending in the South of England.
“… [MoD] statistics prove that defence expenditure is being reduced in NI, Scotland and the North of England relative to concentrated and increasing spending in the South of England. More was spent on defence in London in 2007/8 than was spent in Scotland.”
With yet more jobs set to go, an unknown number of which will be in Scotland, it looks increasingly likely that the MoD will continue to short-change Scotland, and the effects of Westminster cuts will be disproportionately felt here.