Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Cuts - Commander Bigglesworth Speaks Out


What a Fokker*

"I am a Harrier pilot and I have flown 140-odd missions in Afghanistan, and I am now potentially facing unemployment. How am I supposed to feel about that, please, sir?"

Well, that's what happens when Prime Ministers allow themselves to be addressed as Dave: any old public servant feels free to challenge their authority in public.

The thing is while we can all understand that Navy pilot's disappointment at losing his plane, those Harriers are half a century old, the money's run out, and difficult decisions simply have to be made.

As we can now see with horrible clarity, Labour left us with a total shambles on the defence front - vast budgetary overstretch, all tough decisions avoided, and multi-billion equipment orders placed almost entirely to buy Scottish and Welsh votes.

And what about those carrier orders? Contracts so loaded against taxpayers that it's now cheaper to carry on rather than cancel. Even though we do not want - and certainly cannot afford - two carriers.

And at long last we have a government with the good sense and guts to can the hopeless and appalling Nimrod programme. We've blogged it many times, including its dubious inception under Defence Secretary Portillo (see this blog).

The question now is how much have we lost? We know that the programme budget has ballooned to £3.5bn - a trebling in the per plane cost from the preposterously low initial budget - but how much of that has been spent? Our guess is all of it. £3.5bn straight down the toilet.

But though BAE has lost Nimrod, it seems to have kept plenty of other MOD work, and its shares barely moved (since the coalition came in they have roughly tracked the FTSE100). So whatever the screams, this has clearly not been a huge shock to industry insiders.

Going forward, the real issue is HTF are we going to get better procurement value? As we've blogged many times, defence procurement has been a huge money inferno ever since the government started buying bows and arrows.

Like Tyler, you may have been watching the BBC repeats of All Our Working Lives, a 1980s documentary about our traditional industries. And the one about the shipbuilding industry recounted exactly how our grotesquely inefficient shipbuilders were feather-bedded by overpriced defence contracts for decades. In the end reality had to intrude and the yards were closed, but not before taxpayers had been milked for billions.

And one other thing.

Tyler is starting to scream at the constant airtime being given to all the various special interest groups who feel they will lose from the cuts. The BBC is presenting it as a national disaster, with two hour specials and free disaster stickers (probably). But where are the winners? Where are the ordinary hardworking taxpayers (OHWTs) who will benefit from a government with the balls to take the action we must have?

Still, last night we were treated to a highly agitated Michael Crick rushing in to tell Paxo about a rumour that the BBC might be forced to pay for all those free pensioner TV licences itself. Which would effectively mean a £550m pa BBC budget cut. The poor chap looked so upset and uncomfortable we wondered if he'd perhaps wet himself. Does he think he'll be Newsnight's cut?

God, let's hope that particular cuts rumour is true.

*Footnote It may be within a life's span, but Biggles reads like another country. His very first 1932 adventure really was called The White Fokker.

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