MORE military bases in Hampshire are at risk of being axed as a cash-strapped Ministry of Defence needs to find an extra £5.8bn of savings, a Whitehall watchdog has warned.
The National Audit Office (NAO) said the risks to the affordability of the 10-year equipment plan were greater now than at any point since its introduction five years ago.
The plan’s projected cost rose to £178bn last year, an increase of seven per cent compared to a rise of 1.2 per cent between 2013 and 2015.
A large portion of this boost was due to the £24.4bn of additional commitments announced in the government’s 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR).
Meeting the cost will absorb all of the £10.7bn ‘headroom’ safety net for unseen issues.
But this means an extra £5.8bn of savings will need to be found over the next decade.
The NAO said this could threaten UK military bases.
Former navy head Admiral Lord Alan West has branded the findings ‘awful’ and said: ‘This is very worrying. At a time when we’re trying to be closer allies with the world and with America, we’re just shrinking our military. That’s not going to impress President Trump at all. It’s awful.’
About £1.5bn will come from savings in the defence budget – such as military and civilian pay restraint or selling parts of the defence estate.
On top of that, the NAO said the MoD had yet to generate £2.5bn of the £7.1bn savings already factored into the plan.
In addition, with £18.6bn of the plan to be paid for in US dollars and £2.6bn in euros, the costings were vulnerable to further fluctuations in the value of sterling.
NAO boss Sir Amyas Morse said there was ‘little room for unplanned cost growth’.
‘The affordability of the equipment plan is at greater risk than at any time since its inception,’ he said. ‘It is worrying to see that the costs of the new commitments arising from the review considerably exceed the net increase in funding for the plan.’
Last year the MoD revealed it was axing HMS Sultan and Fort Blockhouse, in Gosport.
An MoD offfical said it was conducting a review of its estate, adding: ‘This work is ongoing and no final decision about the future of sites not already announced for release has been made at this point.’
Harriett Baldwin, defence procurement minister, said she was committed to getting the best armed forces kit at the best price for the taxpayer.
‘We are focused on maintaining an affordable programme and delivering the efficiencies we need to reinvest in cutting-edge ships, planes, versatile strike brigades, and greater cyber capabilities, so that our armed forces have the equipment they need to keep the UK safe and secure,’ she said.