Election 2024: Defence

Prospect represents the professional interests of thousands of workers across the defence industry – in the public and private sector, spanning many areas of specialist expertise.

We have years of experience in the defence industry, and we have successfully protected thousands of highly skilled jobs with good terms and conditions.

Our members include civilian specialists in the Ministry of Defence, providing vital support and expertise to the armed forces; they include specialists who maintain frontline equipment at BAE; and they include specialists working at the Atomic Weapons Establishment, Qinetiq, Babcock International Group (including Rosyth and Devonport Dockyards), and more.

The problem

  • The global order has become increasingly unstable, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine demonstrating the importance of maintaining sovereign defence capabilities in an uncertain world.
  • An overemphasis on contract cost has resulted in too many defence contracts being awarded to foreign companies, threatening the long-term viability of the British defence industry and sending jobs abroad.
  • In recent years, defence budgets have been underfunded and new acquisitions have often been delayed because of budgetary constraints.
  • Poor pay and headcount reductions in the civilian workforce have damaged government’s ability to recruit and retain skilled and experienced staff at the MoD, weakening the ability of the MoD and its executive agencies to act as an intelligent customer for government in defence procurement.
  • Defence R&D spending has fallen in real terms by over 30% since 2008, resulting in the UK losing ground in important new areas of research.
  • Sexual harassment is going unchallenged in the sector, including in the MoD.
Real-terms fall in defence R&D spending since 2008 30%
Female MoD staff who have experienced sexual harassment 60%

What we want to see happen

To retain the UK’s position as a leading defence power in Europe and NATO, the country needs to invest in military capabilities across a full range of defence domains.

We want the next government to commit to:

1. Implement a defence industrial strategy that is based on a “UK by default” policy for procurement

We want the government to commit to “UK by default” rather than “global competition by default”, in line with other countries that promote self-reliance and recognise the need to strengthen their industrial base in the face of unprecedented military challenges.

As part of this:

  • reforming the Defence and Security Public Contracts Regulations 2011 (DSPCR) and associated guidance to set out the aims of a new approach based on “the promotion and protection of sovereign capability in UK defence and dedicated to UK design, build, maintenance and repair for defence equipment.”
  • using guidance to assign appropriate weighting to relevant factors when evaluating bids for procurement contracts, for example placing a higher weighting on workforce factors in labour-intensive contracts, and on R&D and UK-based design and innovation in capital-intensive contracts.
  • expanding the grounds on which bidders may be excluded from consideration to incorporate social and industrial policy objectives, excluding firms that have blacklisted workers, avoided tax or failed to confirm they will pay staff involved in delivering the contract (directly or indirectly) at least the Real Living Wage.
  • updating the Treasury Green Book to allow returns to the Treasury (e.g. taxation and lower welfare payments) resulting from contract awards to be considered as part of the evaluation process when comparing different bids.

2. End the real terms cuts to the defence budget

Budget cuts threaten the UK’s national security.

3. Strengthen the UK’s industrial base in defence

This should be achieved with a consistent programme of work that meets the requirements of modern warfare and sustains UK operational independence across the defence domains.

4. Produce an annual audit of defence contracts

This audit should report on the delivery of UK jobs in the defence sector.

5. Launch an independent review of pay and conditions

This should cover both civil servants in the MoD and its executive agencies and arms length bodies.

6. Increase investment in R&D to meet a 2.5% of GDP ambition

Including targets to ensure there is a catch-up in defence science and technology.

7. Launch an external independent inquiry into sexual harassment at the Ministry of Defence

The statistics around sexual harassment in the Ministry of Defence are shocking. 60% of the female workforce have experienced sexual harassment. The government needs to introduce a proper system to deal with bullying and harassment.

8. Improve infrastructure across the sector

To address health and safety concerns about poor maintenance and inadequate facilities.

*Note: This page reflects current Prospect thinking. Prospect National Conference takes place in early June. Relevant new policy agreed at Conference will be reflected here shortly afterwards.

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Further reading

Prospect has long been campaigning on these issues with our members in the defence sector. Here’s some of our recent comment and analysis: