Today’s Guardian has a special section on George Osborne’s contentious budget. Some of the coverage is predictable tendentious comment – mostly critical, of course – but there is a good piece on Osborne’s sturdy resolve to meet his five-year budget targets in the face of gloomy Office for Government Responsibility forecasts. As the subheading says, ‘the national debt is now expected to continue rising, from 67.3% of GDP this year, to peak at 76.3% of GDP in 2014-15’.
Osborne has tough decisions to make, with seniors getting the short straw this year. Were there better options? Plenty. For example, the MoD is ripe for the picking. For starters, what remains untouchable, surprisingly, is Trident, Britain’s nuclear submarine programme. Buried deep in today’s budget-focused Guardian is an interesting bit of news: according to a new report by BASIC, a think tank pushing for nuclear disarmament, dumping Trident would save £83.5b whilst those made redundant could be scooped up by other defence projects. Below is BASIC’s blurb (see full article here).
This second BASIC Trident Commission report focuses on issues around jobs, the maintenance of skills and technology and the regional economic concerns that will inevitably have an impact on political decisions.
Professor Keith Hartley analyses the impacts arising from possible options and concludes that if a future government decided to cancel the programme we would be looking at jobs losses of around 9,200 jobs mainly after 2025 followed by the loss of a further 21,700 jobs after 2052: amounting to a total of almost 31,000 jobs being lost. The time available for adjustment is apparent largely because there are substantial submarine contracts in play today, with the construction of the Astute class attack submarines, allowing time for future government intervention in particularly-exposed local economies. It should be remembered that submarine manufacture is particularly capital-intensive, so that more alternative jobs could be created with the same investment.
He also concludes that cancellation of the Trident renewal programme could produce substantial cost savings of up to £83.5 billion over the period 2016 to 2062, equivalent to an annual average saving of £1.86 billion.
To be fair, the alarming part of the findings is the worst case employment affects – the loss of 31,000 jobs. But as the Guardian elaborates, Mr Hartley, the reports author, thinks this can be made up elsewhere.
The study emphasises that a decision on replacing the Trident system, due to be taken in 2016, should not be dominated by the impact on jobs or industry. “They are not central to a decision [on Trident replacement]” Hartley told the Guardian.
The report says: “Some of the high unemployment areas at risk have submarine work which will continue to about 2025. This means that there is a substantial adjustment period allowing government to decide on the future of the UK submarine industry and to introduce appropriate public policies to allow a smooth adjustment to cancellation.”
Submarine manufacture was particularly capital-intensive, so more alternative jobs could be created with the same investment, it said.
A decision is not set to be made until 2016, but Osborne could do well to sort it out now, especially since his budget horizons are so long term. This might save us from other cuts in the meantime.
As the report says, the future of Trident should not be determined by economic impacts. Government programmes for the sake of jobs is something the Tories have always been against, I thought – at least since Mrs Thatcher.
In this day and age, for a country like Britain, keeping Trident is pointless. Of course much of the stubbornness is down to national pride and over keeping a seat at the world players table. After the Second World War, Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin insisted that Britain not rely on the Yanks for nuclear support. “We’ve got to have this thing over here, whatever it costs”, he said. “We’ve got to have the bloody Union Jack on top of it”. America refused to share technology (after initially agreeing to do so) but Britain got it in the end. Hurrah.
All that seems rather silly now. It’s a lot of money, £80 billion – and surely Britain can remain relevant with their permanent Security Council place and, dare I say, with rather cheap things like the BBC World Service. Too bad the latter became expendable in last year’s Foreign Office budget. Fighter jets aren’t a priority either, apparently. So why keep the nukes? For Osborne, neither jobs nor ego can be an excuse in such austere times.
A Blake Ewing is a DPhil student at Oxford and the Graduate Editor of Politics in Spires.