Guest Column: Defence and policing are being left ‘underfunded’

Sir Edward Leigh
Sir Edward Leigh

The recent May adjournment debate allowed me to air a number of issues which I think are of great relevance not just to us here in Lincolnshire but to the country as a whole.

I have always taken a firm line on defence as the fact remains that threats remain numerous and varied and therefore so must our capability of responding to those threats.

To be blunt, the Ministry of Defence is underfunded.

During the Cold War Britain’s defence spending as percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) hovered around five per cent.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Britain reaped a peace dividend, but even then it stayed round three per cent.

Now it seems to hover around two per cent, though the experts argue about this.

A general consensus is emerging that this needs to increase, and I was pleased that my debate on the subject not so long ago brought about some Government commitments in that regard.

But of course, defence begins at home and it is vital that here in Lincolnshire we are safe and secure in our homes, streets, villages, and towns.

Crime is a real issue in the countryside, as I have experienced myself, and doubtless many of my constituents.

With other MPs from across the county, I met with the Policing Minister to discuss the funding situation for Lincolnshire Police.

The fact is that this county’s force is one of the lowest funded in the country.

Luckily we have been told that austerity in policing is now finished, so we are hopeful for a positive upturn soon.

In the meantime Lincolnshire Police is really doing its absolute best in straitened circumstances.

Meanwhile, we find some government departments are not under strain – quite the contrary.

The Department for International Development (DFID)does undertake some wonderful and productive work across the entire world.

But its budget is set in the most arbitrary manner because of Britain’s commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of GDP on international aid.

This target was invented by the United Nations and bears no relation to any scale of need or necessity.

I am not at all against spending on foreign aid or international developmentt.

As I have said a thousand times, this country has a proud humanitarian tradition which it is our duty to uphold.

Simply put, the link between GDP and the DFID budget does not work.

It creates all kinds of stresses and strains that are unnecessary, and fluctuating levels of funding.

Instead, Britain should investigate what needs exist across the world, focus on how it can deliver improvements and keep a suitable chunk to respond to whatever crises and emergencies arrive unexpectedly.

Whatever amount is arrived at could be lower or higher than 0.7 per cent.

But at a time when services at home are under stress and when the armed forces need better investment, Britain needs to readjust where its priorities lie.