Michael: ‘Defence Needs More Money’

Michael has called on the government to give defence “more money” in the House of Commons today during a statement on the new defence review.

He said: “Is my Rt Hon Friend aware that he would have the support of the whole House if he were to secure additional funding for the pressures this year and next year Defence Review Statement 25th January 2018 standingbut then put the defence budget onto a more sustainable footing that allows our armed forces to tackle the increased threats that they face without these demoralising rumours of deep cuts.

The words here are interesting and they are important, but what really matters in the end is money – more money.”

The current defence secretary responded: “I’d like to thank my Rt Hon Friend for all that he has done for our Armed Forces.  Without his work, without his campaigning, we wouldn’t have been in a situation where we had a rising budget today, with the extra £4 billion worth of extra resources committed to our armed forces by the government.

I will certainly take on board his comments, and I notice his article in the Telegraph today which I thought set absolutely the right tone in terms of approach of how we take things forward, and I hope I have the opportunity to sit down with him to discuss how we get the balance right to make sure that we achieve everything that he has set out and built on for our armed forces over the past four years.

We do need to look at getting additional resources for our armed forces so that they have the capability to protect and truly defend Britain’s global interests both near and far.”

Watch the exchange here: https://goo.gl/7gqAot

Free Sports for Swanley

Michael recently attended a Swanley FC football training session to show his support for a new initiative to provide young people in Swanley with free access to a range of sports around the town.

The initiative is funded by Kent Police and the Crime Commissioners Office under one of PCC Mathew Scott’s grant initiatives.

The programme is designed to get young people involved in positive activities and provide them with just a taste of what activities Swanley has to offer.  Each activity runs for 6 weeks and the Town Council are currently providing Football on Wednesday afternoons and Saturday Lunch Times, Boxing Sessions on a Tuesday Evening and Survival Skills on a Saturday.  Working with the local Rugby Club, Junior Rugby Sessions will be available from March along with Tennis provided by a local Tennis Coach.

Michael attended a training session for 5-7 year olds run by Swanley FC coaches.  Michael said: “It was great to see such enthusiastic kids even in driving rain. Getting them outside is the key. Let’s hope some will go on to play for local youth teams”.

The funding has so far enabled six coaches to train in Football and Rugby, and 50 young people each week are learning new skills.

In addition to free sports sessions, the funding will pay for equipment such as rackets, trainers and sports strips, and will contribute to the transport costs of getting young people where they need to be.

Defence Spending

Daily Telegraph
 My much-missed friends in the military will be in two minds about the newly-announced defence review.  Another review, just two and a half years after the last one, means further uncertainty for all three services, for our amphibious forces, above all for the fine young men and women choosing now to embark on a career of service to our country.

On the other hand, we will all wish my successor Gavin Williamson well if Defence can achieve a more durable settlement with the Treasury. Throughout my three years the defence budget was always under pressure.  Almost every monthly meeting of the defence board that I chaired saw repeated calls for more money for over-running equipment programmes, for urgently needed improvements to housing and fuel infrastructure, for the much-delayed Astute submarines, for nuclear work at Aldermaston. We had to trim vital training, scale down exercises, or defer new missile systems.

In April 2016 we finally committed to the NATO 2 per cent and the budget increased after years of cuts, enabling us to invest in new frigates, maritime patrol aircraft, F35 fighters and armoured vehicles.  But it soon became clear that there would be growing pressures in the early years: nobody foresaw the drop in sterling (much MoD spend is in dollars); replacing the four Trident submarines exposed the need to spend more of that £31 billion earlier to achieve better long-term value.

And the efficiency savings on which part of the future equipment programme depended proved harder than anticipated for the front-line commands to deliver.  They had delegated budgets but were often reluctant to take delegated responsibility, preferring instead to offer up “bleeding stumps” to get Ministers to take the unpalatable decisions.  They took time to understand that efficiency is not a one-off exercise: large commercial organisations take out cost each successive year, ridding themselves of unnecessary land and buildings, sharing back-office functions, slicing layers of middle management.

A year ago I took all these concerns to the Prime Minister.  I warned that the depreciation of sterling and cost escalation in nuclear were putting severe pressure on the budgets for 17-18 and 18-19.  If we wanted to play a leading role in NATO, with our troops and Typhoons defending its eastern flank; to counter the Russian submarine threat to our deterrent and our cables in the North Atlantic; to go on bearing the second biggest load of air strikes and army training in Iraq; to go on supporting fragile democracies in Afghanistan and Nigeria, and to offer the UN more peace-keepers in Africa; then we had to put the defence budget onto a more sustainable footing.

In return I wanted to push all three services much harder on rooting out duplication – in everything from helicopters to logistics, medical and administrative functions – and to use their manpower more effectively and more collaboratively.  The new service chiefs were up for that challenge.

But work on sorting out the budget, tackling duplication and better prioritisation was halted for the snap election, and only picked up again last summer.

The new review must recognise that the threats to our country have significantly increased.  Before the invasion of Crimea Russia seemed innocuous: now we see its threat to the western democracies.  And Russia is spending not 2 per cent but 5 per cent of GDP on modernising its conventional and its nuclear forces, on hybrid and electronic warfare.

The Middle East and North Africa remain launchpads for further extremist attacks on our cities.  In the Pacific a nuclear North Korea threatens Japan and the United States– even London is within range.

Then there’s cyber, a threat from anywhere, anytime.  Our enemies can steal our information, disrupt our energy supplies, even our government systems.  A cyber warrior with a laptop and smart software can inflict huge financial and physical damage on individuals, companies and entire countries. State-based hackers can target our NHS and our Parliament.

Increased threats must mean a bigger budget.  As I told our party conference in October the NATO 2 per cent is only a minimum.  In the last year of the last century, 1997-98, the Blair government was spending 2.7 per cent.  That was before 9/11, before the attacks from Daesh, before Russia started changing international borders by force, before Kim threw missiles over Japan.

In the end this is about us.  If post-Brexit we are to play our proper part in the world, defending our shores and supporting our allies, championing our values and helping fragile democracies, then we should be more ambitious.  We should be leading in NATO, working with our friends in the Gulf, helping in Africa, and deploying further afield too.  Yes, insist on further and tougher efficiencies but relieve the immediate pressures on the budget and then set a new target to reach 2.5 per cent of GDP by the end of this Parliament.

Fallon Calls for New Defence Spending Target

In his first defence speech since stepping down, Michael has called on the government to set a new, higher target of 2.5 per cent of GDP for defence spending by the end of the Parliament, warning that Britain’s “security is at stake”.

Michael listed the “new and growing threats” since he took office in July 2014.  He highlighted the threats Daesh posed in the Middle East to energy supplies, key shipping lanes and allies in the Gulf as well as inspiring attacks on British and European cities.  He also noted the increasing use of cyber by state and non-state actors sheltered by Russia, Iran and North Korea, and the fragility of democracies in Africa.

Michael warned of the increasing spending gap with Russia.  He said Britain “has to do better” than the NATO 2 per cent target in light of increased Russian naval activity, cyber and hybrid insurgence and its proxy war in Ukraine.

Michael also reviewed the pressures on the defence budget from the decline in sterling, the need to reprofile nuclear spending, and to deliver efficiency savings earlier.  He wants the Treasury to provide immediate relief of £1 billion, in return for removing back-office and inter-service duplication.  “Efficiency savings are a continuous process, not a one-off exercise,” he said: “all three services need to work much more collaboratively in everything from helicopters to medical and logistics support”.  In return, defence spending should rise from 2.1 per cent to 2.5 per cent of GDP over the next four years.

Concluding his speech, Michael called on Britain to reassess its role in the world.  “If we retreat from our vision of a confident, outward-looking Global Britain”, he cautioned, “then we will drift downwards to being a bit-part world player, a part-time champion of democracy and freedom.  That would mean walking away from our international obligations, letting down our allies, and in the end leaving us less safe.

“On the contrary, we should be doing more in the world: our troops, planes and ships should be seen on every continent, in every sky, on all seven seas.  And our ambition needs a fully-funded budget to match.”

Read Michael’s speech here: Reflections on Defence speech 22nd January 2018.

Michael Meets Kent PCC in Parliament

Michael recently met the Kent Police and Crime Commissioner, Matthew Scott, in Parliament.

The pair reviewed Mr Scott’s recent funding proposals for Kent Police and issues affecting Michael’s constituency casework.  The local MP was also happy to hear about the good progress of the new Police Constables in Sevenoaks, whom he had inspected during their Passing Out Parade last year.

Discussing key issuesMichael pressed Mr Scott to roll out a more effective speed prevention system in villages such as Otford and Brasted.  He welcomed the introduction of TruCam – a smart speedwatch system that administers on-the-spot fines to repeat offenders – but called for more immediate action.

Michael said: “Kent Police is getting the funding to increase the number of officers patrolling our streets.  But speeding remains a menace.  So it’s important that some of this money is put towards rolling out more effective tools for stopping speeders.”

Victory as Council Scraps Plan to Axe Buses

Michael has welcomed Kent County Council’s decision to not cut vital bus services after he campaigned to save them.

Council leader Paul Carter committed to reconsidering the plans after more than 17,000 people signed a local petition against the plans.

Mr Carter said he was “passionate about not isolating people in rural communities” and although savings would now need to be made the emphasis would be on “conversation and not consultation.”Vintage Bus

The Council said it had set aside a budget of £500,000 to speak to people, district and parish councils about bus services. Some little used buses could see changes to the way they were run but routes would not be cut at present.  Councillors also pledged to continue a £8.7 million subsidy through the Young Persons Travel Pass.

The council’s funding shift comes after the Government agreed local councils could increase the amount they could raise in council tax without holding a referendum by one per cent. And it follows an announcement which gives Kent the right to retain business rates locally.

Michael said: “I welcome the county council’s commitment to looking at other options. This shows that when people get involved we can win and change minds.”

Kent MPs Signal Concerns to New Rail Minister

Michael has today (12) organised a letter to the new Rail Minister signalling concerns about the postponed new Thameslink fast service, which has been signed by four other Kent MPs also affected by the delays.

Following his representations to Govia Thameslink Railway about his alternative phased proposals earlier in the week, the Sevenoaks MP took the opportunity to put the issue on the new Rail Minister’s radar.  It is the first time the local MP has took charge of a county-wide campaign since returning to the backbenches in November last year.

The letter reads: “Many families and businesses have made long-term plans on the basis of this service starting in 2018.  Our constituents are therefore concerned that the services could be postponed further still, beyond 2019.

We are extremely disappointed at this situation, which has been taken without consultation, and would appreciate your time to discuss alternative phased proposals as soon as possible.

It is vital that the new plans avoid punishing businesses and commuters in our constituencies who have anticipated and planned for the introduction of this new service now for over four years.”

Click here to read the letter in full:      Page 1    Page 2

MPs See Need to Change Voting for Blind

Michael has led calls for a change in the voting system for blind people at the launch of the Royal Society for Blind Children (RSBC) Youth Forum’s 2018 Youth Manifesto in Parliament.

The RSBC Youth Forum was set up to act as a voice for blind and vision-impaired young people in London and the South East and to unearth potential solutions to challenges they face, such as employment, transport, accessible technology and mental health support.

As the charity’s President, Michael was keen to educate parliamentary colleagues about RSBC’s forward-looking initiatives.

“Not enough people know that people who lose their sight in youth have huge hurdles to overcome”, he said.

“As a Member of Parliament, I am particularly interested in improving access to democracy for the vision-impaired: using technology to reduce barriers to voter-turnout, considering the location of polling stations and making local candidate information more available.

These are basic human rights that some young people are being denied: this is something we cannot ignore.”

MPs from all parties then listened to presentations by the Chief Executive of the charity, Dr Tom Pey, members of the RSBC Youth Forum, Ruksana Khanum, Cory Sharp and Charlotte McMillan, and Areeq Chowdrey of Webroots Democracy.

With RSBC officers and Nusrat Ghani MP
With RSBC officers and Nusrat Ghani MP.

The four key areas of focus in the manifesto are:

  1. Raising awareness about what it looks like to be blind or vision-impaired;
  2. Working with national transport providers in order to improve services for independent travel;
  3. Campaigning for better mental health support for young people who are blind and vision-impaired; and
  4. Making our current voting system accessible to blind and vision-impaired people.

New Direction on Train Delays Needed

Michael has today (10) called for Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) to rethink the scheduled phasing of its new Thameslink fast service.

Writing to Chief Executive, Charles Horton, the Sevenoaks MP urged GTR to consider starting the postponed fast service as originally promised, but with one train per hour rather than the twice-hourly service originally planned.  The alternative proposal aims to ensure that families and businesses in the northern parts of his constituency still benefit from services that would help local regeneration.

Michael indicated it was possible to meet the capacity problem by protecting existing services and pursuing a more balanced phasing in of new services.

He said: “It is vital that the result of this delay avoids punishing businesses and commuters in my constituency who have anticipated the introduction of this new service now for over four years.”

Michael at Royal Opening in Swanley

Michael helped officially open the new Swanley Citizens Advice in Swanley Shopping Centre with HRH The Princess Royal this month.

Citizens Advice is an independent charity that provides free, confidential and impartial advice and information for those who need it.  Its trained volunteers help with drafting letters, advocacy and preparation for tribunals.

As Patron of Citizens Advice since 1990, HRH The Princess Royal greeted volunteers and spoke to Michael about the importance of developing strong working relationships between MPs and Citizens Advice.

Welcoming HRH The Princess Royal’s comments, the local MP said: “Citizens Advice is essential to my work.  Its advisers are experts who are trained to deal with very difficult cases, so I am pleased that locally we have such a good relationship and look forward to our continued collaboration.”