MoD hasn’t always spent money wisely, minister says, as he pushes back defence budget decision at NATO summit

10 July 2024, 08:48 | Updated: 10 July 2024, 11:11

Pollard on defence spending

By Kit Heren

Labour's new armed forces minister has claimed that the Ministry of Defence has misspent money, as he said that the government would only make a decision on the military budget once it knew where it wanted the funding to go.

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Luke Pollard told LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast that a defence review to set out where the funding is needed would conclude within a year - but would not commit to a timeframe for military spending to reach 2.5% of GDP.

Speaking from the NATO summit in Washington, he said that the government had "made an ironclad commitment" to reach 2.5% "as soon as our fiscal rules allow".

But he added that the first step "has to be about what we spend that on" because the armed forces have undergone "hollowing out and underfunding" in the 14 years of Conservative government.

Mr Pollard added: "We need to conduct that defence review, not just looking at the headline spend, how much we're spending on defence, but importantly, what we're spending on and how we're spending it - because the Ministry of Defence in the past hasn't always spent money as well as they should be."

"And we want to direct more of that money to our frontline forces, and importantly, to British industry, so the money that we're spending to keep our country safe is supporting jobs in our nations and regions of the UK."

Labour have been accused of "playing with fire" by former military leaders for delaying spending decisions. Philip Ingram, a former colonel in British military intelligence, told the Times that the "threat is now and it will take years to fix the army, our ammunition stocks, get the RAF and navy ready."

The Conservatives claimed ahead of the election that Labour could not be trusted with the armed forces, a charge that Sir Keir Starmer's party disputed.

Read more: Keir Starmer urges NATO to ‘unite’ to 'Trump-proof Ukraine aid' ahead of US election

Read more: Keir Starmer to kick back defence spending decision at NATO summit in first foreign visit as Prime Minister

Watch Again: Nick Ferrari speaks to armed forces minister | 10/07

Asked why other departments had been able to set out clearer spending plans sooner, Mr Pollard said that the opposition does not get such a close look at the books of the Ministry of Defence, for security reasons.

"It's been certainly easier in opposition for departments that can look at 100% of the information required to make a decision. That's what we've done in health and education, other areas.

"But in opposition, you don't get to see the classified security briefings, the intelligence, the work with our allies that would be required to work out precisely what shape our armed forces should be."

Follow the NATO summit with LBC
Follow the NATO summit with LBC. Picture: LBC

Prime Minister Keir Starmer has urged fellow NATO members at the summit to unite and protect funding for Ukraine in its war with the Russia, ahead of a possible victory for Donald Trump in the US election.

Mr Trump, a NATO-sceptic, is the favourite to win the election against incumbent Joe Biden in November. Mr Biden has maintained a firm pro-Ukraine stance.

Mr Pollard said the UK's defence review would make sure that British defence spending is aligned with NATO.

"This defence review will not only look at UK capabilities, it will consult our allies to make sure that we have a true NATO first approach to our security," he said.

Britain's Prime Minister Keir Starmer and his wife Victoria board a plane for the NATO summit
Britain's Prime Minister Keir Starmer and his wife Victoria board a plane for the NATO summit. Picture: Alamy

"In the event of any conflict, the UK would not fight any war on our own. So we need to make sure that the capabilities that we have as a country fit perfectly with those of our allies, and we're already seeing the UK cooperates with our allies.

"There's UK forces stationed in Estonia, for instance, we have air policing operations with the RAF and we know that there is an opportunity to deepen some of those defence relations with other NATO states to make sure that we're spending this money wisely, to deter as much aggression as we can - and defeat it if necessary."

The army got smaller under the Conservatives, with around 75,000 regular personnel as of January this year.

Mr Pollard suggested that it would not continue to shrink under Labour, although he would not commit to it increasing in size either.

"We want to make sure that the forces are in the right place, and in the right structures and formats," he said.

"In opposition, I certainly wasn't keen on the reduction in our armed forces," he told Nick.

Joe Biden speaking at the NATO summit
Joe Biden speaking at the NATO summit. Picture: Alamy

"We've seen not only the smallest army since Napoleon, we've seen one in five Royal Navy warships cut over the last 14 years 200 RAF planes [cut].

"What we now need to do is make sure that we're matching our capabilities as UK armed forces against the threats that we are facing.

"We have developed new capability gaps in recent years, because of good reasons. For instance, we have correctly supported our friends in Ukraine [by] donating UK military equipment, so they can fight this illegal Russian aggression, [but] that has created gaps in our own armed forces."

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