On Monday 14 May, the government announced it had signed off on spending nearly £1bn more on the Trident nuclear submarine programme. But the revelation came just days after a parliamentary committee warned [pdf, p7] the Ministry of Defence (MoD) was essentially running out of money, with one campaign group telling The Canary the MoD is “out of control”.
The Trident magic money tree
The Trident programme is the UK’s nuclear ‘deterrent’, consisting of four submarines. It’s currently being upgraded, after parliament signed off on continuing the programme in 2016. But the scheme has always been fraught with controversy, not least because of the cost and the debate surrounding nuclear disarmament. Now, the government appears to have poured petrol on the fire by announcing Trident contracts worth £960m have been signed off.
The government says the contracts are to “ramp up the next phase of construction” for Trident’s replacement, the Dreadnought submarines. The contracts are “for £900m and £60m with BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce respectively”. It comes less than two months after the government announced a further £600m for the scheme, on top of another £200m announced in February. The government’s current estimated cost of renewing Trident is around £31bn. But campaigners claim that, when all factors are considered, the actual total cost of the programme is nearer £205bn.
Meanwhile, the extra £960m for Trident comes after parliament’s public accounts committee released a report on 9 May. It warned the MoD was facing a huge funding gap. The committee said [pdf, p7] the department:
Simply does not have enough money to buy all the equipment it says it needs… The Equipment Plan for 2017 to 2027 is not realistic and the department lacks cost control.
The committee noted [pdf, p7] there was a potential £20.8bn “affordability gap” in the MoD’s budget; in layman’s terms a shortfall. It also said [pdf, p7] the department had failed to be ‘transparent’ to parliament and the public about “the financial risks it faces”.
In relation to the Trident upgrade, the committee warned [pdf, p10] it was the “biggest risk” to the MoD’s finances. But in a bizarre move, the MoD itself warned [pdf, p14] the committee that the Trident replacement was based on “immature assumptions”, and that it couldn’t guarantee costs wouldn’t increase further.
All aboard the nuclear white elephant
All this is damning news to campaigners. The general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), Kate Hudson, told The Canary:
Usually, it’s organisations like CND that criticise the MoD and its spending plans, but the public accounts committee has been pretty devastating in its criticism; particularly singling out spending on the Trident replacement programme.
The committee basically says the MoD is sloppy, secretive and out of control. Bad planning and projections are evident: it is likely that they will come in over budget and cash will be required earlier than anticipated. A key problem is that with such vast, uncontrolled spending on the nuclear weapons system, which has zero use other than as a status symbol, the government won’t be able to afford to spend on meeting new security challenges like cyber attack, as well as terrorism and the consequences of climate change. The MoD needs to be reined in. It’s playing roulette with our security, gambling on big ticket projects with no returns.
This latest funding announcement shows that the whole Trident renewal project is spiralling further out of control. Parliament must scrutinise the programme and its relevance in 21st-century defence. Because if not, it will continue to turn into the biggest ‘white elephant’ in living memory.
– Sign CND petition to scrap Trident.
– Contact your MP if you disagree with the Trident nuclear ‘deterrent’.