£38 billion defence budget black hole: filling in the gaps

12 June 2012

Just under 4,000 armed forces personnel woke up to the news today that their services were no longer required, as the Ministry of Defence looks to curb its spending on staff.

The spectre of job losses was also cast over the the House of Commons as MPs returned from recess to Defence Questions, where a number of MPs questioned the scale of spending cuts.

A popular refrain to this theme from Defence ministers was that any cuts were necessary because of the parlous state of the Department's finances that the Coalition inherited in 2010. As Minister for the Armed Forces Nick Harvey put it:

"If one has had to balance the budget having inherited a £38 billion black hole, inevitably certain capabilities would have had to be deleted."

Regular Full Fact readers might remember that when we probed this 'black hole' last year, the Ministry of Defence were unwilling to shed any light on the £38 billion figure quoted.

While the MoD has - in response to questions from Full Fact and others - broken down its estimate into 'equipment procurement and support' and 'other pressures' (see the table below), it wasn't able to divulge what was captured by these figures.

Certainly the information provided by the MoD wasn't detailed enough to explain why its own estimate of the budget 'black hole' differed so markedly from the National Audit Office's reckoning, which was placed at £6 billion.

The lack of transparency associated with this figure was also something noted by James Arbuthnot, Chair of the Defence Select Committee, who implored ministers yesterday:

"The sooner he can provide absolute clarity about exactly how [the Defence Minister] has balanced the budget, and exactly how the £38 billion black hole that Defence Ministers referred to is calculated, the better."

Full Fact will therefore be submitting Freedom of Information requests to the MoD to bring to light the detail behind this oft-quoted figure. Follow us on Twitter or Facebook to keep up to date with the information we unearth.

Full Fact fights bad information

Bad information ruins lives. It promotes hate, damages people’s health, and hurts democracy. You deserve better.