Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How Brown plans to screw the Armed Forces for billions

It should come as no surprise that Gordon Brown would screw the Armed Forces over by cutting their funding but few realise that he is about to do it again to the tune of literally billions of pounds. At a time when we have troops in theatre in two conflicts; there a multitude of equipment issues; and we have to have charities like Help for Heroes to subsidise the Government shortfall, it has come to light that the Treasury will be robbing even more from the coffers.

In January 2008, OFCOM announced that the Government, via the Ministry of Defence, could sell off its 75% holdings in spectrum radio frequencies to the private market.
Government, its agencies and other public organisations including the Ministry of Defence (MoD) will be able to share, trade or release their considerable radio spectrum holdings under new plans announced by Ofcom.

Ofcom expects the arrangements to free up some of the most valuable spectrum for new wireless services for the benefit of citizens and consumers. This will enable the key public users such as the MoD to trade their spectrum holdings and acquire new spectrum in the market.

Public bodies use around half of the radio spectrum below 15 GHz – the most sought after and congested frequencies. An independent study published in 2005 estimated that the spectrum held by the public sector could have a market value of between £3bn and over £20bn.
That's a lot of money and is on a par with the amount of money the Treasury gained from the sell off of licenses for the 3G mobile networks in the late 1990s. However, how much of this estimated £3bn to £20bn will the MoD see?

In a recent memo from the MoD to the Defence Select Committee the MoD confirmed that it was only going to be allowed to keep £500 million in receipts from the sell-off.

The memo states that the level of receipt is "commercially sensitive" which suggests two possibilities.

Either, we are going to see another gold debacle where Brown allows something valuable to be sold off at the bottom of market, thus screwing over the funding of the Armed Forces at a time when they really need it.

Or, the MoD has been told by the Treasury that it can soin for the money and its only getting 16% of the minimum £3bn whilst the Treasury takes the other £2.75bn for itself (presumably to plug its black holes). Thus screwing over the funding of the Armed Forces at a time when they really need it.

Of course, if the market decides its worth a figure like the top-end estimates of £20bn that represents even more money the Armed Forces lose in the deal. Thus screwing over the funding of the Armed Forces at a time when they really need it.

The recurring theme here is simple isn't it? Brown and his Government are planning on shafting the Armed Forces out of potential billions in funding. The Military Covenant is ignored once more.

UPDATE: This issue has also been raised in Parliament, although sadly via an Early Day Motion (parliamentary graffiti) so no bugger has really paid attention.


Conand said...

I entirely agree Dizzy.

I've said it before but I'll say it again. I want Dizzy to be my MP!

Dizzy, I hear the pay is pretty good over at the HoC.

Demetrius said...


The economic gloom and confused politics of 2009 mean that the Government will be promoting the 2012 Olympic Games to an even greater extent. But there are key issues that are little discussed in public. One is the security arrangements and the probable real costs. Their will be a reluctance on the part of the Games organisers to say much about these questions. The shenanigans of the G20 Meeting are just an offering of canap├ęs in comparison to the engorging feast of an Olympic Games.

What few people grasp is that in the modern Olympic Games there have been only a small minority where heavy security and military presence has been necessary. The Beijing Games of 2008 was one. Others were the Berlin Games of 1936 and the following Games in 1948 in London that drew on the lessons of its predecessor in that the substantial military involvement was necessary for the organisation and the running of the Games. The 1980 Moscow Games relied heavily on military personnel for the running and support facilities as well as political control.

In all of these the Olympic hosts had substantial military forces, other facilities, and powers of action that will not be available to London in 2012. The difference between the London of 1948 and London of 2012 is that the security challenges and their management are of a totally different order and complexity.

What Security Risks in 2012?

London, because of its central position in Britain’s Imperial history, and the epicentre of the UK modern government, financial, and media systems has a role unlike that of many Olympic hosts of the recent past. In recent years large scale migration from across the world has had the consequence that London has become host to all the world’s sorrows and conflicts. Groups from almost anywhere in the world who have enmities or hatreds are present in London, whether peaceful, involved in conflict abroad, or potentially beyond the law or violent in the UK. The application of the Human Rights legislation in the courts allows almost unrestricted opportunities for recruitment, indoctrination, training, planning, and logistics. It is unlikely that the total number and scope of their activities will be reduced by 2012. They are likely to increase given the spreading economic disruptions in all the world’s polities and economies. These events will spill more increasingly discontented and complicated elements into London, the South East, and other urban areas.

Policing has broken down in some parts of London, spawning not merely gangs and lethal feral youngsters, but the worse prospect of these becoming enmeshed with all the many bitter hatreds, disputes, and armed confrontations endemic throughout the world. It is not a powder keg; it is a large warehouse full of big nasty fireworks, all of which may go off in 2012. When Yob Culture becomes political then it is every man for himself. There are too many lessons in history.

So in the summer of 2012 it will not mean just a few more happy smiling policemen directing the traffic and telling the time with a crew of blazer clad volunteers running about with millboards trying to be useful, although some of these will be needed for media and publicity purposes; nor regular staff on overtime to cope with the extra numbers on public transport. It will mean an army of trained, expert, and effectively commanded people across the south east of England and at points elsewhere, rather more capable, better organised and co-ordinated than the present forces.

What Will The 2012 Security Demands Be?

• The entry points to the UK by air, sea, and land will need additional controls and safeguards with substantially more efficient communications, support and co-ordination facilities.
• Existing sensitive security, research, military and related locations will need augmented protection during and up to the period of the Games. We do not want one Liberation Front or another raiding certain research facilities.
• An outer screen of security forces (the M25 Net) will need to be in place to cover the approaches to London in the event of emergencies on a response basis. This will need its own communication system.
• Within London there will need to be high security response teams available to cover all sensitive locations, e.g. foreign embassies, on an area basis.
• The surface transport networks will require added staffing beyond the needs of ordinary passenger movement and assistance. This should cover stations and trains on a comprehensive basis.
• There is the security and monitoring within the Games venues, apart from the event control and management staff.
• Security and monitoring at the approaches, in the immediate vicinity of the venues, and at the road and transport links.
• The same two facilities at all the accommodation facilities for the athletes, the organisers, the support staff, and the VIP elements.
• Also, along the transport networks for these categories and for spectators and other associated groups.
• For those either taking part in the Games or who are closely involved with them on one basis or another, particular security and monitoring will need to be in place for groups or individuals who might be chosen as prime targets by any dissident or terrorist group.

How Much Does Security Cost?

It will depend how you do the costing, the assumptions you make, and what will be entailed in the deployment of large numbers of people operating on a basis of both established provision and special facilities. Inevitably, to keep the apparent costs down it is likely that this will be hidden and that will kept off the balance sheet to reduce the admitted cost. The reality will be much greater.

Assuming that the UK government, unlike in 1948, will not have the option of using forced labour in the shape of conscripted troops, and assuming that it will not seek to use cheap labour from the Balkans and East Europe as the basis for its internal security, then who might be available from within the UK labour force? At present we do not have the numbers, the structure, the support organisation, the computer systems and the communications systems, to allow us to calculate the figures.

It is not a question of thinking of a figure of people, assuming an average wage, and then booking a figure for the month at that price, hiving off other costs as within the existing structures, or covered by some sort of “legacy”. Nor should there be any off balance sheet contrivances through shifting loans or loading onto other accounts, for example, local council finances rolled into the Games provision. Moreover for each person engaged in the security the real cost will include all the backup, support and management systems necessary to sustain a comprehensive coverage.

What does this mean?

For the personnel involved the work will begin, not days or weeks, but months in advance in terms of the deployment, training, and preparation for the Games. They will all have to know exactly what they are doing, why, how the operation is being managed, where they will be, and when they will be there. If they do not then the consequences could be chaotic with the risks attached. Mayor Boris Johnson’s vision of 10,000 volunteer policemen is inadequate and dangerously over confident. Such a group may ornament the approaches to events, and dress the photo-opportunities for the politicians and celebrities, but who will they be, where from, and now trained?

The implications for this are serious. The military will need to be withdrawn from previous duties and redeployed from the Autumn of 2011. The police forces will need to be progressively released from other duties from early in 2012. The security forces inputs and detachment from earlier tasks; necessarily will be from before that time, and increasing through 2012 until the end of the Games. Other groups and staff taken from existing services will be transferring their work again from early 2012 in increasing numbers. Even if it is assumed that many of the staff on the ground will be only temporary, a substantial proportion will need to be in place and in training rather before that time. If assistance is being given by other countries, for example the French CRS, this will take some time. The CRS certainly would have to made aware of British sensitivities in the handling of demonstrations.

There are other implications. The number available from the British military will be far smaller than the military capability for the Beijing Olympics, even if the whole of the British Armed Forces were to be deployed. For the police to approach the numbers deployed in Beijing might entail effectively the withdrawal of the police services from large areas of the United Kingdom for several months. Either there will have to be significant recruitment of extra police from this year onwards or the government will have to face other options for policing communities beyond the M25.

A back of the envelope figure for the real numbers for security of 250,000 people at a typical real head cost of £25,000 each, yields a total in the order of £7.5 billion. This does not include hardware costs, such as IT, software development, transport facilities, and kit. The figures for government and local authority IT development in recent years would suggest more billions, but this is only speculation. If a table is devised to set on the one hand the numbers to be employed against the real cost of each then the running costs for personnel and management, less hardware, could escalate well beyond £15 billion.

In short, the real total security bill may well exceed all other costs.

What is necessary now is a clear statement of the intentions of the Government and the implications for the budgets of central and local government of the security plans. With this should be clear statements concerning the impact on local and other services, not just during the month of the Games, but during the whole period when staff and others will be occupied with them as either their sole or first priority.

Anonymous said...

Dizzy, I think further investigation is needed. What exactly are the government selling off? Are these the wavelengths that have been freed up by the MOD switch to digital/satellite comms?

I may be showing some ignorance, but does DAB operate within the existing "analogue" radio frequencies, but just using narrower bandwidths?

Simon Fawthrop said...


The full report can be read here:


It doesn't make fascinating reading, though, unless you are a telecoms nerd and even then...

Dizzy, you over simplify the problem. The MOD pays AIP (rent) on the spectrum. I reckon it unlikely that the spectrum will sell for more than the AIP so the MOD will better off just be getting rid of it.

John M Ward said...

I think "Henry Crun" is on the right lines here (how's Minnie Banister, by the way?).

For several years I was the Executive Officer responsible for all new civilian uses of radio, and I soon became aware of the huge chunks of radio bandwidth that were allocated to the MoD.

In those days, that was not so much for the use of a great deal of that bandwidth so much as a way to make it difficult for our enemies to tap into our military communications.

I worked with MoD contacts (who were great people, by the way, and one of them even came to a party in my dept once) and it was obvious from their impositions — such as they were in many cases — that they didn't actually use much of their allocation, and were unlikely to do so in the foreseeable future.

Now, with modern techniques, it isn't necessary to retain all of that radio spectrum; and indeed I'd be very surprised if foreign agencies hadn't by now worked out for themselves the parts of the spectrum upon which they need to concentrate their efforts.

With modern encryption techniques, satellites and all the rest of it, there is no need to squander EM spectrum that could be put to valuable new uses.

For example: mobile 'phones came out of the close-down of 405-line VHF television (I know: I was there at the time, and licensed its development) and other new concepts became possible when suitable spectrum became available for them.

Therefore, regardless of the party politics, on this occasion I am strongly tempted to give the Government the benefit of the doubt on this move — and, perhaps annoyingly, I am probably the best qualified to offer an opinion on this subject.

Sorry about that: it's because radio waves behave according to the laws of physics, not the law of man, that so much of what we did (and I am sure they still do) tends to be "right" rather than "politically convenient". It can annoy politicians no end :-)

Simon Fawthrop said...

Further to John's comments, the MOD also cleared the 900MHz spectrum to make way for UK to implement the GSM standard. That was possibly the best ever strategic telecoms move ever made.

dizzy said...

The technical stuff is great but I think the point being missed here is that there are projected estaimtes for the sell off and then there is the planned receipts for that sell off to the MoD which greatly differ by an order of magnitude.

dizzy said...

Incidnetally, if you read that report linkd above it makes clear that the cost should be based on a combination of AIP and market value. It is the market value compared to the receipts as I said which is the point.

Note also the detail in this motion.

nick said...

Meanwhile the Government is reserving spectrum for a Europe-wide vehicle tracking system, so they can waste yet more billions on another intrusive database which will be late, massively over budget, won't work properly and someone will leave on a USB stick in the back of a taxi.

Adrian P said...

WRT Car tracking systems. let's just suppose they do this and start billing us for travelling.

Let's say that 1% of these in car units fail at any one time, and there are 20,000 000 cars on the road per day, does this mean that

200,000 people per day are not allowed to drive to work, go tot the shops till their unit is fixed.

As usual, MP's forget about the minor details like this that end up screwing us..

Personally Generals, I think Britain could do with a rest from these Brianless but none the less Dangerous Depots, any chance you could close that building down.

Anonymous said...


It isn't at all unusual for departments to not keep the whole (or even any) receipts from asset sales.

In effect, the sale will demonstrate a correct market value for an asset the MoD currently get to use. If the MoD want to keep using it, they could in effect buy it back, but at a price which reflects it true value.

By selling it at the "correct" market rate, Government can become more efficient, by then reallocating the sales revenue to departments (including MoD) through spending rounds / Budget. There is no rationale for giving MoD the full value of the spectrum automatically; the money could potentially be better used elsewhere, in delivering other public services or paying down Government debt.

The MoD isn't being short changed, or getting less resource, than previously; if the spectrum is being sold as unneeded, then it is simply becoming more efficient. You should applaud this!