Chris Abbott – MD Hewlett Packard Defence opened the meeting by highlighting the long and broad relationship that HP has had over the years with the Ministry of Defence (MOD). HP looks after the pay and HR system for all serving personnel and veterans. HP considers this a key role particularly at this difficult time for the Department and its serving personnel. He finished by underlining how privileged HP felt in hosting the Minister at this Westminster Forum event.
Nick Harvey MP, Minister of State for the Armed Forces. The Minister’s theme was ‘Defence in Austerity’. The Minister started by highlighting the complexity of maintaining operations in Afghanistan while having – at relatively short notice – to respond to events in other parts of the world. Even during the Strategic Defence Review he suggested that just as you think you are getting on top of things there are more variables to cover such as Libya and the Arab Spring. He went on to state that the power plates in military terms are moving East and South and the UK must have the capability of defending its economic interests at a distance. This requires maintaining the 4th largest defence budget in the world albeit swamped by that of the US.
He explained the financial situation and indicated that he felt the government was going just fast enough in tackling the deficit – there was not an option to go slower.
He discussed the impact of the deficit reduction on the armed forces and acknowledged that the defence industry is on the wrong end of these cuts. But ‘national security’ continues to put demands on defence that the UK continues to have to meet. This will necessitate making strategic partnerships with new allies in other parts of the world
He expressed delight that the Government had agreed 1% in real terms beyond 2015 as this meant going ahead with some of the equipment ordered in the past months. The fact that Bernard Gray has agreed to implement the critical findings, the Minister felt was a cause for optimism that failings in processes and procedures would be put right soon. He expected dramatic action on this front. He finished by hoping that the Joint service campaign on the White Paper will give it more coherence.
There followed a lengthy q&a session which for the first time in a long time involved virtually all members present asking a question of our guest speaker and some more than one! The Minister answered freely and frankly questions as wide ranging as: the potential for the Navy to engage more with SMEs; the ‘correct’ proportion of reservists and civil servants for a 21st Century fighting force; compulsory vs voluntary redundancy for armed forces personnel; and whether the French or the British are keener on the new military ‘entente cordial’.