Page last updated at 09:40 GMT, Sunday, 18 October 2009 10:40 UK

Tories 'may sell off Met Office'

Mr Fox said the MoD had to focus on frontline operations

A Conservative government would consider privatising the Met Office, shadow defence secretary Liam Fox has suggested to the BBC.

The Tories are committed to reducing Ministry of Defence costs by a quarter and this could include selling assets such as the Met Office.

Mr Fox told BBC One's Andrew Marr Show there was a "very strong case" for looking at offloading MoD assets.

He disputed suggestions that 22,000 MoD jobs could go as costs are cut.

Mr Fox said the Conservatives' policy had to be "about giving things to the front line", adding: "We can't afford to have 16% of the whole civil service in the MoD."

'Do these deliver?'

Asked how a Tory government would make savings, he said: "It's also big structures like the fact the MoD owns the Met Office, with all the costs, salaries, pensions."

Questioned about privatising the Met Office, Mr Fox said: "There's a very strong case to look at the assets of the MoD and say do these deliver anything for the front line?"

The Conservatives have asked civil servants to draw up plans to cut MoD costs by 25% without reducing front-line troops.

I'm very happy to have any extra help, any extra advice that leads us to better decision-making
Liam Fox, Conservatives

Mr Fox told the party's conference earlier this month: "Some things will have to change and, believe me, they will."

The MoD has 85,000 civil servants. The Tories have pledged to cut overall Whitehall budgets by a third.

The Liberal Democrats have also pledged to axe 10,000 "desk jobs" at the MoD to fund a salary rise for junior armed forces personnel.

But Labour ministers have accused the Conservatives of undermining the morale of troops in Afghanistan by raising questions about funding.

The Met Office, which provides the UK's weather forecasts, was established in 1854 as a small department within the Board of Trade and later became part of the MoD.

'Bit of training'

Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show, Mr Fox played down the significance of the appointment of the former head of the Army, General Sir Richard Dannatt, as a military adviser to the Conservatives, saying: "Advisers advise, politicians decide".

Gen Dannatt has said he was recruited because party leader David Cameron felt his defence team "lacked expert understanding".

But Mr Fox said: "It takes a bit of training to be a politician."

He insisted Gen Dannatt had agreed only to be an adviser and "no ministerial role has been either offered or accepted".

He said: "I'm very happy to have any extra help, any extra advice that leads us to better decision-making."

Last week Lord Turnbull, a former head of the Civil Service, said the appointment of General Dannatt was a "major error of judgment" and warned that it would call into question the impartiality of other military chiefs.

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