A future Conservative government would overhaul British defence spending by attacking bureaucracy and boost military exports to stimulate growth, the party's defence spokesman Liam Fox said on Friday.
Both the ruling Labour Party and the opposition Conservatives are under intense pressure to show how they would rein in a record budget deficit in the run-up to the election expected in May.
With politically sensitive health and education programmes likely to be spared as much of the pain as possible, defence is a prime candidate for the axe.
In addition, all the major parties are committed to a Strategic Defence Review (SDR), the first in more than a decade, likely to take place soon after the election.
But Fox, who along with Labour has conceded there would have to be defence savings somewhere, steered away from talking about deep cuts.
Instead, he told a meeting of aerospace, defence and security professionals in London to expect radical reform of the way defence spending is apportioned and administered.
He said if elected the party would seek to maximise the UK's share of global defence exports.
That would benefit the sector -- already the world's second largest exporter -- protect 300,000 jobs, including in run-down areas of Britain, and stimulate revenue and growth.
In 2008, UK defence industry exports accounted for 17 percent of the world market, equivalent to 4.2 billion pounds ($6.38 billion).
On the topic of procurement spending he accused Labour of ordering new military equipment and promising new projects despite running up record debts.
"They are like bankrupt shopaholics having one last binge on their way to jail," Fox said.
Cuts or efficiency savings?
As a result, he said there "is an unsurprising conventional wisdom that defence programmes will have to be cut. But is this right?"
Citing a recent study by management consultants McKinsey & Co he said the global benchmark percentage of the defence budget that went into administration costs is 11 percent, while in Britain it is 20 percent.
Quoting the same study, he said spending on maintenance of equipment at a global level was 5 percent, but more than double that in the UK.
Crucially, he said, actual spending on kit for the armed forces, is 33 percent at a global level but only 18 percent in Britain.
"All of this is going to change," he said, insisting that new spending on equipment for front-line troops could be protected.
Fox, would not be drawn on the future of major defence projects, like the two new aircraft carriers, spending on destroyers and Joint Strike Fighter ahead of the SDR.
But he did commit to a modern and viable at sea nuclear deterrent. "All parties have a agreed that our nuclear programme will be exempted" from the cuts, he said.
ReutersGüncelleme Tarihi: 19 Mart 2010, 17:54