THE Ministry of Defence is to postpone publishing its annual report until after the Scottish independence referendum.
Last year the 2012/13 accounts were published on 16 July but this year they are not due to come out until late September or October.
The move has fuelled concerns among Scottish nationalists that the MoD is deliberately withholding information to hide the level of defence cuts in Scotland and prevent Yes campaign supporters from having an accurate picture of what an independent Scotland’s share of defence assets would be on 18 September.
The MoD has denied that the date of the publication of its annual accounts has anything to do with the referendum and said that there is no fixed date for them to be made public.
However, the SNP – which estimates Scotland would be entitled to more than £7 billion of defence assets including frigates, Typhoon fighter jets and bases listed in the independence white paper – believes that the delay is part of a concerted attempt by the MoD and other Whitehall departments to prevent them from developing a negotiating position before the referendum vote.
Last year, The Scotsman saw a private SNP dossier with claims that the MoD is deliberately suppressing information.
The SNP dossier highlighted a number of parliamentary questions on defence assets and a regional breakdown of defence spending placed by the party’s Westminster leader and defence spokesman Angus Robertson. Each time the response from MoD ministers was that the information is either no longer produced or is not held centrally.
The issue has been further clouded by the decision of the UK government to not publish another National Asset Register (NAR) which contained individual values for each item held by the MoD and other departments. The last NAR was published in July 2007.
Instead, the UK government has replaced it with the Whole Government Accounts which was recently criticised by the Public Accounts Select Committee for failing to provide enough detail.
This year’s accounts are expected to be particularly damaging for the MoD because it will give details of the thousands of service personnel who have been made redundant over the 2013/14 tax year.
Commenting on the latest decision to delay publishing the annual accounts,
SNP Westminster leader and defence spokesman Angus Robertson MP said: “The delay in publishing the MoD’s annual accounts is unacceptable but sadly not surprising given what is likely in them.
“It will lay bare record savage cuts that have left service personnel in Scotland at a record low and the defence footprint much reduced.
“The last report highlighted extreme examples of waste and a fire-sale of valuable equipment. The report, of course, would also reveal the value of remaining assets in which Scotland has a share, something I doubt the MoD would be keen to highlight.”
An MoD spokeswoman described the SNP accusations as “entirely unfounded”.
She said: “We follow the same process each year, and the report will be published in due course setting out defence resources as a whole, not split by region.”
She went on: “We are proud that by 2020 we plan that Scotland will home 12,500 personnel as well as all of the Royal Navy’s submarines, one Adaptable Force Brigade, and one of three RAF fast jet main operating bases.
“This presence generates huge economic benefits and is a visible sign of our commitment to Scotland and its vital contribution to the defence of the UK.”
The MoD also pointed out that the UK has the biggest defence budget in Europe – spending £164 billion on equipment and support over the next ten years – and the second largest in NATO, spending above the NATO target of 2 per cent of GDP on defence.