The cost of Trident: 5,300 redundancies

Chris McSweeney reports on the Liberal Democrat review of Trident replacements.

On Tuesday of last week, the Liberal Democrats made good on a campaign promise, as Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander announced the launch of a “Trident Alternatives Review” to replace the UK’s notoriously expensive nuclear deterrent, “Trident”. In an interview with The Guardian, Alexander stated that while he was not in favour of the abolition of the nuclear deterrent, he stressed the need for cheaper alternatives to be considered.

The opening of this inquiry came just hours after the MoD announced the impending redundancies of 5,300 soldiers in the wake of cost-cutting measures. The latest tranche of redundancies comes as a result of the Coalition’s Strategic Defence and Security Review of 2010, which aims to reduce the number of personnel in the armed forces by a further 6,000 before 2016.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said: “The Army is actively managing recruitment to reach the target numbers, but unfortunately redundancies are unavoidable due to the size of the defence deficit that this government inherited and the consequent scale of downsizing required in the Army.”

While the MoD insists that personnel made redundant have a 91 per cent rate of finding “some form of employment” within six months, Catherine Spencer of the Army Families Federation has raised concerns that the working lives of some veteran troops, particularly those living in service accommodation could be thrown into turmoil as entire families could be uprooted following the job cuts. Speaking to ITN last week she claimed that families could face “a huge range of difficulties to overcome”.

Aside from this, in spite of the Defence Secretary’s remarks, recruitment centres could be more likely to turn away applicants in a bid to meet personnel reduction targets, which is bad news for the 2 per cent of students who attempt to enlist in the Armed Forces within six months of graduation.

Post-graduate enlistment notwithstanding, army recruitment continues to rise every year due to thousands of young people leaving various levels of education, many facing joblessness in a time of severe economic recession. With the continuation of austerity measures in a bid to lower the national debt, even the armed forces; historically a safe career path for those struggling to find work elsewhere, could heavily clamp down on recruitment over the next few years.

Meanwhile, early estimates of the cost of replacing the Trident Nuclear Deterrent stand at an initial £25-£30bn, with £3bn a year running costs over the nuclear submarines’ 30 to 40 year lifespan. At present, Trident accounts for around 5 per cent of the MoD’s annual budget, and has repeatedly been the topic of debate between MPs – as many believe that a nuclear deterrent is an unnecessary measure in the 21st century.

Danny Alexander’s report is expected to conclude in June of this year, however thus far there are no plans on releasing the report to the public once it’s finished. In response to this, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) has started a letter-writing campaign to MPs, demanding the fullest publication of the report be made available.

Chris McSweeney