Page last updated at 14:52 GMT, Tuesday, 15 September 2009 15:52 UK

Defence budget 'facing changes'

British troops in Helmand Province, Afghanistan
Failure in Afghanistan is not an option, ministers say

Bob Ainsworth has hinted at "major shifts" in defence spending as the government prioritises resources for the war in Afghanistan.

The defence secretary urged a "wide-ranging" debate about future priorities but did not say what might be squeezed.

On Trident, Mr Ainsworth said the UK would "stick" with its seaborne nuclear deterrent but would look at its costs.

Several senior Labour figures, including Charles Clarke, have called for Trident not to be renewed.

'Tough choices'

The Liberal Democrats argue that the UK cannot afford to replace Trident with a like-for-like successor when it expires in 2024.

Ministers say they will begin a strategic defence review early in the next Parliament, the first since 1998, and will launch a green paper on future defence priorities early next year.

We will need to be better at spending the money we have and more rigorous in prioritising what we spend it on
Bob Ainsworth, Defence Secretary

Opposition parties say the scale of the UK's military commitment in Afghanistan - where 9,000 UK troops are stationed - and the losses there mean this process should be accelerated.

In a speech in London, Mr Ainsworth said the Afghan deployment would remain the UK's "principal commitment for as long as it takes" and could not rule out knock-on effects for other operations as resources were focused there.

"We cannot exclude major shifts in the way that we use our defence spending to refocus our priorities," he said.

"There will be tough choices ahead."

Despite seeing real-term increases in spending in past years, Mr Ainsworth acknowledged there were now "significant pressures" on the Ministry of Defence's £36bn budget.

"We will need to be better at spending the money we have and more rigorous in prioritising what we spend it on."

The MoD has been criticised for going over-budget on major procurement projects and for not being able to account for spending on certain systems and equipment.

Future of Trident

Later, Mr Ainsworth said the future of Trident was not under review as MPs had backed its renewal in 2007, however he suggested during a Sky News interview that the cost of the project - which experts say will top £20bn - would be looked at.

"Of course, if we can provide that at sea deterrent with three submarines rather than four submarines, and therefore cut the cost, we will look to do that."

The Conservatives back Trident but say it will form part of an overall review of the defence budget which they plan immediately if they win the next election.

The Lib Dems have called for a smaller, cheaper deterrent to reflect the changing nature of warfare and threats to the UK.

A report by the think tank Reform, published on Tuesday, argued that not renewing Trident could save £70bn over 25 years.

A further £40bn could be trimmed off the defence budget by scrapping some hardware and reducing waste, it added.

Print Sponsor

PM suggests possible Trident cuts
10 Jul 09 |  UK Politics
Clegg says no to Trident renewal
16 Jun 09 |  UK Politics
Ministers to start defence review
07 Jul 09 |  UK Politics
Replacing Trident
10 Jul 09 |  Politics Show
'Wargaming' a Cameron government
10 Sep 09 |  UK Politics

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific