Featured in the Queen’s latest speech, the Defence Reform bill is stirring up controversy throughout the UK. Plans to part-privatise military procurement and boost reserves are coming under close scrutiny, following concerns of mismanagement. Already, union leaders, former military personnel, and industry experts are in uproar following the announcement.
The first piece of legislation mentioned by the Queen involves a part-privatisation of the Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) department. Currently, the DE&S has an annual budget of £14 billion and a staff of over 16,000. However, future performance is crucial to the survival of the department, as it has suffered numerous fiascos in the past. With funds already stretched thin, thousands of jobs are at stake should the new legislation fail.
Reforms will allow private companies to step in and ease the financial burden of the DE&S. They will also allow private organisations access to highly-classified information relating to the supplies and purchases of billions of pounds’ worth of defence equipment.
In effect, new laws will turn the DE&S into a government-owned, but contractor-operated, agency. The legislation is revolutionary, as no other military power in the world has privatised such a crucial department of defence.
The US is particularly alarmed by the part-privitisation. An unnamed officer voiced concerns about “putting contractors in roles normally filled by government employees and the effects this would have on ongoing and future operations”. Washington officials may not consider the UK the confidante it once was.
The second piece of legislation announced in the Queen’s speech involves military forces, cutting army numbers and adjusting reserves to balance the reduction. The British army will shrink by 20 per cent, while reserves are set to increase from 17,000 to 30,000. In compliance with this shift, the MoD will fund extensive training and equipment, in the amount of £1.8 billion.
Recruitment is proving to be a difficult task for the military, however. A white paper will soon be published explaining how the MoD aims to increase enrolment and boost reserves to comply with new legislation. In the meantime, expect more details to surface, and more heated debates to kick off involving the part-privatisation of the DE&S.