Defence Secretary Liam Fox today confirmed that the so-called ‘value for money’ review of the Trident replacement programme will be completed within weeks and will merely look at technical matters. It will ignore the question of whether nuclear weapons are necessary for the UK’s security.
Liam Fox also appeared to set out a timetable that would see millions of pounds of expenditure approved without MPs being informed of the scale of that spending for months, let alone given a chance to scrutinise the decision.
Kate Hudson, Chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said "Describing this as a ‘value for money’ review is a nonsense – the fundamental question is whether Britain needs a Cold War weapons system decades after that conflict ended. Many senior military figures conclude that we don’t, so regardless of whether some aspects of the system can be pared back, this would give us something of no defence value for a great deal of money. When other aspects of defence spending are likely to be cut in the Strategic Defence and Security Review it seems absurd to exempt from scrutiny the biggest single item of expenditure.
She continued, "It also appears that the Coalition is set to approve untold millions for new submarines at a time when Parliament isn’t even sitting. Claims of a ‘new politics’ will seem thread-bare indeed if the Trident replacement project receives ‘initial gate’ approval during the summer recess. Last year almost every Lib Dem signed a motion in protested when Labour planned a similar move – we hope their desire for democratic scrutiny hasn’t been diminished. Major decisions on nuclear weapons must not be taken behind closed doors and only reported to MPs months later. Yet this is what the Government appears to be proposing."
Discussing the strictly limited review that the Coalition is undertaking, Defence Questions, Liam Fox said "The Value for Money study will be completed by the end of this month; it will then go to the Cabinet Office and then be considered by National Security Council. The National Security Council’s conclusions will inform the SDSR and the Comprehensive Spending Review which will be published in the autumn."
This timetable strongly suggests that the ‘Initial Gate’ decision, which locks down key decisions on billions of future spending will take place during the summer parliamentary recess, preventing scrutiny by MPs. Liam Fox had previously suggested MPs will only be informed of costs after the next steps in the project are already agreed.
There has been widespread concern over the potential for Trident costs to increase greatly from the original estimates. When last examined, the National Audit Office said the MoD’s estimates were "not yet sufficiently robust to support the future deterrent programme throughout its planned life" [note 5]. Concern with runaway costs is particularly strong given the ongoing programme to build Astute submarines was already running 48% over budget and almost four years late when last formally assessed in March 2008.