​Welfare or warfare? New govt will cut services to protect military, warns ex-civil service boss

Reuters/Suzanne Plunkett
Ministers will effectively ring-fence defense spending after the general election, cutting already severely strained local government budgets in order to do so, according to a former civil service boss.

Bob Kerslake, who was recently made a peer in the House of Lords, served as permanent secretary for communities and local government until retiring in February.

He told the Financial Times the drive among ministers to protect defense budgets would lead to even deeper and unsustainable cuts to public spending.

READ MORE: Battle lines: Defense spending cuts could break the Tories

He said backbenchers and military chiefs would bring pressure to bear on a post-election government regardless of that government’s composition, but particularly if a Conservative-led government was at the helm after May’s general election.

Kerslake said defense “to all intents and purposes is going to be protected.

So if we think about the pressure on the unprotected budgets, it’s even more acute if you think defense is unlikely to feature in huge measure,” he said.

That’s something I think people have not taken into account.

His comments come at a time when military spending has become an important electoral issue. Minister and military chiefs have decried the impact of austerity on Britain’s standing in the world and its ability to meet a NATO commitment to spending 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) on defense.

Last month, a paper by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) suggested the government does not deem strategic threats to Britain “serious enough” to merit insulating military spending.

The government is not yet convinced that strategic security risks are high enough to justify an exemption for defense from austerity,” the report concluded.

The findings jarred with statements by politicians and leading generals on the dangers posed to the UK.

READ MORE: Govt deems security risks too low to ‘exempt defense from austerity,’ says think tank

In February, the top British officer in NATO – General Sir Adrian Bradshaw – referred to Russia as an “obvious existential threat to our whole being,” while Prime Minister David Cameron has called the rise of the Islamic State a “mortal threat.

The investigation also indicates Britain is unlikely to meet NATO’s symbolic 2 percent of GDP defense-spending pledge, and that thousands of soldiers could be cut irrespective of who wins the general election.

The UK Independence Party (UKIP) is the only party proposing serious increases in defense spending, a position which is at odds with their insistence that Britain withdraw from, or in future avoid, what party leader Nigel Farage has termed “endless foreign wars.”