Top 10 defence policies for Party manifestos

by CMS Team on 06 June, 2024

With the general election in full swing and the party manifestos imminent, CMS has listed ten priorities for Defence which should be considered by any future government.

1. Timetable to 2.5% GDP

In recent months there has been a significant focus on defence spending following the Spring Budget which, as CMS first reported, appeared to have a reduction in defence spending by £2.5 bn between 2023-4 and 2024-5. With both parties now committed to increasing defence spending to 2.5% of GDP annually — by 2030 for the Conservatives and “as soon as resources allow” for Labour — a more concrete timetable and clarity of how it will be spent is essential. This would enable the Ministry of Defence and the Armed Forces to plan future expenditure accordingly, facilitating a robust replenishment and buildup of capabilities.

2. Crystal clear procurement

A long-standing frustration for many across the Defence enterprise is the complexity of its procurement processes. The new Integrated Procurement Model, introduced by the Minister for Defence Procurement James Cartlidge at the start of this year, has not yet had the time to demonstrate its impact. And it’s yet to be seen, whether the plans proposed by Shadow Defence Secretary John Healey in February will prove more successful. Regardless, clear commitment to radically improving defence procurement with set rules, milestones, and contract start dates is essential. As well as supporting emerging and disruptive technologies (EDTs), establishing a framework that facilitates healthy competition to maximise opportunities for SMEs, and encouraging foreign investment in the UK.

3. More contracts for SMEs

We welcome the Ministry of Defence’s commitment to allocate 25% of its procurement expenditure, both directly and indirectly, to SMEs. However, according to the latest figures from the Ministry of Defence, direct spending in the 2022/23 financial year accounted for just 5% of its total expenditure. It is vital that politicians include a commitment to uphold this target, develop more effective methods for measuring indirect expenditure with SMEs, and present a clear strategy to achieve this goal.

4. Boosting exports

While preserving and developing UK sovereign capabilities, the exportability of defence equipment manufactured in the UK should be front and centre when procuring capabilities for our armed forces. This emphasis will increase commonality and interoperability with allies but will also generate and sustain jobs, contributing to economic growth. Initial plans were laid down by Minister for Defence Procurement James Cartlidge, and it is essential that this progress continues in the years to come.

5. Increasing investments in advanced technologies

Last year, the Ministry of Defence committed to spending £6.6 billion on research and development by 2026. As part of the ambition to increase defence spending to 2.5% of GDP, we would like to see this figure increased further. Enhanced investment in R&D will enable the UK and its armed forces to gain, sustain, and extend their lead in a multitude of fields, including synthetic environments, UAVs, artificial intelligence, and laser technology.

6. AUKUS and JEF industrial collaboration

Within both parties’ manifestos we would hope to see a commitment to deepening industrial collaboration within both pillars of the AUKUS framework, and exploring the same within the JEF framework. Strengthening these partnerships will enhance shared capabilities, drive innovation, and ensure interoperability among allied forces. By prioritising joint development and procurement projects, the UK can leverage the expertise and resources of its allies, bolstering national security and maintaining a competitive edge in defence technology.

7. Improving military housing and accommodation

Good-quality housing and accommodation for our armed forces personnel is vital. The party manifestos should include a commitment to improving the living conditions for service members and their families. A recent report by The Kerslake Commission on Armed Forces Housing reveals the dire state of UK armed forces accommodation, highlighting the urgent need for action. This includes investing in the renovation and maintenance of existing military housing, as well as constructing new, modern accommodations.

8. Strengthening recruitment and retention

Tackling recruitment and retention challenges is vital for maintaining an effective military. The party manifestos should include strategies to attract and retain talent through competitive salaries, better career development, and enhanced support services. This also requires reviewing recruitment requirements and abandoning outdated policies, such as the recent lift of the ban on beards in the Army.

9. Support for service members and veterans

Supporting both current service members and veterans is crucial. As a proud Armed Forces Covenant signatory, we advocate for party manifestos to include policies that enhance mental health services, increase funding for housing programmes, future careers, and improve family support services. These measures will significantly improve the quality of life for those who serve and have served, reflecting our nation’s gratitude and commitment to their well-being.

10. Crack down on Environmental, social, and governance policies in Defence and Security

Pioneered by CMS’ client 4GD and recently highlighted by the “debanking” scandal of hundreds of defence companies by high street lenders, the ESG topic is of growing importance. We would want to see a commitment to firm Treasury-led action to protect defence industry businesses from being unfairly treated by banks. This includes ensuring access to banking services and improving access to capital.

Written by: CMS Team

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