SNP warns army cuts savings may be spent on Trident

THE SNP fears plans to cut the British Army’s top brass by up to a third could see the savings spent on the Trident nuclear system.

Troops from 1SCOTS in Helmand. Critics say savings should fund front-line capability. Picture: Greg Macvean
Troops from 1SCOTS in Helmand. Critics say savings should fund front-line capability. Picture: Greg Macvean

Slimming down top ranks has been broadly welcomed by Scotland’s main parties – as long as savings are reinvested in front-line soldiers.

Under the Ministry of Defence’s Army Command Review up to a third of the force’s 500 colonels and 200 brigadiers and generals could be axed, starting in April.

But a spokeswoman for the SNP, which opposes Trident, said: “This is a further indication UK defence spending is skewed towards ridiculously expensive and unusable Trident nuclear weapons, rather than conventional forces.

“The UK armed forces were top heavy before [previous] cuts – so it follows that after them there would be even more excess top brass. The MoD needs expenditure on capability and regular personnel to operate them – not on Trident and top commanders.”

Sir Menzies Campbell, Liberal Democrat MP for North East Fife, said: “Since the 2010 review the army has been whittled down to a point where the options open to ministers are inevitably reduced.

“A further review is scheduled for 2015. It is high time we had a proper defence review and not a financial one, but if we can safely save on command costs and put more into front-line resources this should be explored.”

And the Scottish Conservatives said: “Cuts to the army’s bureaucracy would be very welcome, especially if any savings are then reinvested to help with the front-line pressures faced by our servicemen and women across the world.”

Labour shadow defence secretary Vernon Coaker added: “Labour has long called on ministers to challenge the top-heavy imbalance in the forces, but under this government the lower ranks have shrunk at a faster rate than senior ranks.”

The MoD said the figure of a third was “not something we recognise” but acknowledged there will be cuts at the senior level and a reduction on that scale “could be a possibility”.

Statistics show the US army has around 300 officers at equivalent brigadier and general ranks – only 100 more than the UK – for a force around five times the size.

The reduction in top posts comes as the army scales down to around 82,000 regulars by 2020, with a goal of increasing the reserve force to 30,000.

Lieutenant Colonel Richard Williams, a former SAS commander, said: “One of the reasons our senior military leaders were so poor in Basra, Helmand and London was that many got promoted to leadership roles based on their ability to do good staff work, or to be adept at playing compromise politics in the MoD as opposed to demonstrating the ability to lead men, machines and organisations in tough times under huge pressure.”

An army spokeswoman said: “The review will ensure the army’s command structure and its staff are best placed to meet future challenges in an agile, imaginative and effective manner.”