Jim Murphy responds to yesterdays publication of the government’s industrial strategy white paper. This article also appears in todays Times newspaper.
By Jim Murphy, Shadow Secretary of State for Defence
National security and economic stability are mutually reinforcing and the UK defence industry is vital to both. The news that France rather than the UK may be about to secure a big order of fast jets from India is of serious concern not just for thousands of workers, but for our Armed Forces and our country as we seek to rebalance our economy.
Judging by the Government’s defence industrial strategy, published yesterday, the UK too could, in future, be choosing French jets. The strategy is a long way from “Buy British”. It supports open competition but is seemingly silent on the economic impact back home.
There is no doubt that far-reaching reform at the Ministry of Defence is necessary to prevent the delays and huge cost over-runs that have blighted defence procurement. But reform must support and not jeopardise one of our most fundamental industries.
National security and defence are usually exempt from the clash of political ideas. But that cannot be the case on this occasion. The British defence industry deserves certainty about where to make long-term investments. The Government should outline which sectors, if any, will be considered too vital for national security to be allowed to be built abroad. However, ministers have rejected this approach.
Labour wants to prioritise contracts that allow equipment to be upgraded within the UK. This would protect vital skills and intellectual property and prevent essential upgrades being put to the back of another country’s queue.
This is not about a slack, cosy partnership between the MoD and defence companies. The Government should be prepared to shut down or return a project to the approval stage when costs or delays exceed targets. We also need to end the practice of two-year tours in defence procurement by military officers, with the exception of experts, and replace it with permanent professional staff who receive rewards for saving tens of millions.
We know that budgetary constraint is unavoidable. That is why, in addition to the £5 billion of savings we have agreed to, we would also make cuts to civil servant numbers and to the number of Tornado jets and would reform the Army’s regional structure.
If you were to design from scratch an industry of the future that created large numbers of skilled jobs and contributed greatly to our national wealth and exports, you would come up with something like the UK defence industry. It now needs a clear strategy — the country cannot afford to lose any more orders.
Image: UK Parliament