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It is not necessary to disband 2RRF

An “overzealous” austerity drive meant the Forces were missing out on vital equipment, senior military sources have told The Daily Telegraph.

They have accused ministers and civil servants of failing to manage the defence budget properly after the MoD failed to spend all the money it was allocated for 2012-13.

One senior figure accused Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, of going too far in his push to control the famously chaotic defence budget.

Another senior officer said Mr Hammond’s overcautious approach was putting at risk the Coalition’s plan to reconfigure the Armed Forces by 2020.

Mr Hammond on Friday night rejected the accusations, saying his critics “have no idea how the defence budget now works”. They are “financially illiterate,” the minister added, insisting that almost all of the money unspent last year will still be used for the Forces.

The Coalition is cutting the defence budget by around 8 per cent over four years, forcing defence chiefs to lay off thousands of personnel.

The Army is losing 20,000 posts, and the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force are losing another 10,000.

Whitehall accounts show that the MoD spent only £37.7 billion of its £39.5  billion budget in 2012-13.

The unspent £1.8 billion included £250 million from the budget for new equipment. Another £200 million had been earmarked for wages, but was not spent because more servicemen than expected chose to quit. MoD records show the underspend also includes money that was set aside as a contingency fund but never used.

Maintaining an infantry battalion of 650 men is estimated to cost £30 million a year. By that measure, the £1.8 billion underspend could keep six battalions – 3,900 soldiers – for a decade.

Mr Hammond, a former businessman, has forced through changes in the management of the MoD and the Armed Forces to try to repair their finances.

He says his changes have eliminated the £36 billion budgetary “black hole” the Coalition inherited from Labour.

However, one senior MoD insider told The Daily Telegraph: “Philip Hammond is being overzealous is his pursuit of austerity at the MoD. His cuts to the budget have been unnecessarily hard.

“He is far too cautious when it comes to taking tough decisions on vital equipment programmes, with the result that the money simply doesn’t get spent. As a result the MoD has been made to look incompetent.”

The Armed Forces are engaged in a decade-long restructuring programme called Future Force 2020, which is meant to deliver a smaller but more adaptable military force.

That plan is based on the assumption that total spending on equipment will rise every year from 2015. But those increases have not yet been confirmed, and defence chiefs worry the underspend will make it harder for the MoD to negotiate the increases they need.

A senior military officer commented: “The MoD can hardly expect the Treasury to increase the budget for capital equipment when we can’t even spend the budget we’ve been allocated. It just makes us look incompetent.”

“We have got into this mess because ministers simply won’t take difficult decisions on important programmes. As a result the radical restructuring of the Armed Forces that was supposed to take place by the end of the decade will not now be achieved.”

Mr Hammond on Friday night launched a personal attack on his military critics, saying: “These 'senior military figures’ are presumably the same people who presided over an out-of-control defence budget that led to the previous government sending troops into battle without the proper equipment needed to protect them.”

He added; “We now budget prudently and then roll forward any underspend to future years, allowing us to place new equipment orders.”

An MoD spokesman said: “The underspend results from better control of equipment projects, the release of contingency funds as projects mature and a conscious decision not to spend money on contracts until we need to.”

NOW,above all NOW is the time to redouble your efforts, write, email, tweet, your MP, Hammond and the PM objecting to the disbandment of 2RRF,citing this story as evidence that it is not necessary.

Omnia Audax XX


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