MoD ‘insults defence experts with sham 200 word consultation’

By Ben Farmer, Defence Correspondent

8:00AM BST 15 Aug 2015

Former senior officers and academics have accused the Government of insulting defence experts by asking for their suggestions for the defence review, but limiting them to just a few hundred words.

The Ministry of Defence is calling for input into this summer’s StrategicDefence and Security Review (SDSR), but cutting responses to only 1,500 characters.

A Conservative think thank earlier this month warned the review risks being superficial and nothing more than “a glossy PR document”, unless given more time to analyse the threats Britain now faces.

The limit was last night labelled “disgusting” by one defence lobby group, while Labour said Government promises to consult widely were a sham.

The consultation was launched last week with an online form for those wanting to give their ideas, but strictly limiting proposals to 1,500 characters, or about 200 to 300 words.

DefenceSynergia, a lobby group including several former senior officers and academics, said the approach was “quite frankly, an insult”.

It said: “It is simply disingenuous of the Government and a slight to the intelligence of professional analysts to suggest that this patently restrictive methodology is a genuine attempt to open up SDSR 2015 to a broad base of analytical thinking.

“By any standards it must be considered an own goal and must be challenged.”

Many defence experts have already called for a wide-ranging review because the last one in 2010 focused only on cost cutting, and security threats around the world have since changed dramatically.

Vernon Coaker, the shadow defence secretary, said the Government’s “entire approach to the SDSR is wrong”. He said: “They promised an open process but instead have delivered a sham consultation where submissions can be no longer than 300 words. The MoD’s methodology is an insult to the wider defence community whose expertise should form the foundation of the Government’s review. The 2010 SDSR did not survive contact with reality and all the signs are that the Government will repeat the mistakes they made five years ago, leading to a further decline in Britain’s global influence.”

The Bow Group, a Tory think tank, earlier this month said the review should be extended into next year to give it more time and allow more collaboration with experts.

Harry Malins, who wrote the Bow Group report, said: “The value of a 300 word survey is extremely limited and I’m afraid it reflects the rushed nature of the review.”

A Government Spokesperson said: “The Government is engaging with a wide range of external experts on the upcoming SDSR, including academics, industry, think tanks and non-governmental organisations. This engagement poll is an important tool for inviting comments from the public on the full range of SDSR topics, but it is not the only way in which the Government is seeking external input.”

Naval chiefs are using the SDSR to press a call for 2,500 more sailors to man the new aircraft carriers. Meanwhile it emerged the Royal Navy will use the SDSR to call for 2,500 more sailors. Naval chiefs are arguing they will be unable to man the vast new Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers without a big increase in manpower. The service is already struggling to keep up manning levels and is badly short of highly-skilled technical trades who are being headhunted by industry. The 2010 defence review cut 6,000 sailors from the Royal Navy.