How much is Trident costing already?

25th Jun 2010

When George Osborne announced his programme for cuts this week, some of his critics suggested he should have trained his axe one aspect of spending in particular; Trident.

But how much money would actually have been saved had the emergency budget binned the bombs? Nothing, according to Business Secretary Vince Cable.

The Claim

Appearing on BBC's Question Time last night Mr Cable was dismissive of Green MP Caroline Lucas' calls for savings to be made from Trident.

He said: "It doesn't actually effect the budget because it's a long way down the track."

Clearly the bulk of Tridents costs will be in building and maintaining the new system, but can the current spending in anticipation of this be dismissed so lightly?

Analysis

The claim is hotly disputed by anti-nuclear groups. Kate Hudson, Chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, rejected the Business Secretary's portrayal of the current costs of replacing Trident.

She said: "Hundreds of millions of pounds have been spent already on designs for new Trident submarines and billions are being spent on preparing for a new or modified nuclear warhead."

Greenpeace also estimates that £1.5 billion will have been spent on replacing Trident by 2014.

We were told this figure comes from an estimate given to the Defence Select Committee that 15 per cent of £11-14 billion cost of replacing the submarines, will be spent in the initial phase of the project — up to 2014.

Various figures have been provided by the current Government and the previous administration on aspects of the current costs.  In an answer to a parliamentary question earlier this year, then Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth said £380 million had been spent from April 2007 to December 2009 getting to the 'initial gate' phase of Trident renewal.

Full Fact contacted the Ministry of Defence who referred us to figures showing that in 2010-11 £350 million will be spent on the programme for new submarines for the missiles.

But if much of the money detailed above has already been spent what scope is there for changes even up to 2014?

We also contacted defence think tank the British American Security Information Council (BASIC) for their perspective on current costs.

Executive Director, Paul Ingram told us that an accurate figure was not publicly available but gave an estimate of £500 million per year going forward to 2014.

"There's money being spent on it at the moment but we're still at least officially in the concept phase," he said.

"It's still going to be significantly lower than the manufacturing phase, it's really just a ball park figure. We know it's going to cost more than £200-300 million and we know is going to cost less than £1 billion, so £500 million seems a reasonable estimate."

While such estimates seemingly contradict Mr Cable's contention, the other costs can potentially be factored in which suggest spending is even higher..

Both Greenpeace and CND argue that the investment on the Atomic Weapons Establishment sites at Aldermaston and Burghfield should also be included in current spending, with the a CND spokesperson estimating a figure of around £1 billion a year being spent.

In the most recent study on the cost of Trident, Dr Nick Ritchie of Bradford University produced a range of costings for different options for renewing the nuclear deterrent. Built into all the estimates is a figure of £10.35 billion of extra AWE investment over the period 2003 to 2013.

Just how much of this can be factored in to considerations of current spending on Trident replacement is unclear. Firstly some of this investment was made before any decision on replacing Trident was actually taken and secondly it is unclear how much the extra money reflects more general increased running costs at AWE.

However, the idea that Trident would not affect decisions in the current budget becomes very difficult to sustain indeed,  considering the fact that only last week, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander announced £66 million of spending on Trident preparation would be postponed.

Conclusion

Some of the costs given above are a very small fraction of what will ultimately be spent on renewing the Trident programme, but they are costs nonetheless.

Even excluding the AWE spending, if the programme were scrapped today, hundreds of millions would not be spent, resulting in savings in the current budget. The Business Secretary's claim therefore is inaccurate.

We contacted Mr Cable's office for a response to this point but we are yet to receive as response.

Perhaps when one is dealing with tackling an £150 billion budget deficit this year, as Mr Cable's government is, it is easy to minimise the effects of saving a few hundred million a year.

Patrick Casey