The government’s position on defence spending is, to put it politely, confused. After the completion of the SDSR and the defence spending settlement, there was an expectation that the military budget would begin to rise again in real terms from 2015. There has long been talk in Whitehall that David Cameron assured senior military figures that this would be the case and, as James Kirkup notes, he told the Commons that he believed that this would happen.
So, this morning when we woke to the news from the Prime Minister’s plane that the defence budget would rise in 2015-16, it seemed that Cameron had imposed his will on the bureaucracy. But then Philip Hammond took to the airwaves and said that the only thing that was guaranteed was that the equipment budget would increase. Subsequently, we have been informed that this applies to 2016-17 onwards, not 2015-16.
This is all very muddled. But it does reveal something important: the 2015-16 spending review is going to be politically painful. Given additional cuts need to be made and the health and schools budgets are protected, there’s not going to be much good news for other departments.