The risks to the affordability of the Ministry of Defence Equipment Plan are greater than at any point since reporting began in 2012, according to today’s report from the National Audit Office.

Spending on equipment and associated support in the 2016 Plan is projected to be £178 billion, an increase of 7%, compared to an increase of just 1.2% between 2013 and 2015. The Strategic Defence and Security Review added £24.4 billion of new commitments to the MoD budget, including the Mechanised Infantry Vehicle, the Poseidon Maritime Patrol Aircraft and an acceleration of purchases of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

In order to meet the funding requirements proposed by the Review, the MoD must use the entirety of the £10.7 billion headroom previously set aside to meet emerging requirements in future years.

To further ensure the affordability of the Plan, the MoD must also find £5.8 billion of savings from existing projects in the next 10 years. Plans for achieving these are still under development. Of this, £1.5 billion will be provided from savings elsewhere in the Defence budget, for example through military and civilian pay restraint, or savings from the running of the defence estate, the latter of which the NAO reported in November 2016 would be extremely challenging. These savings targets are in addition to £7.1 billion of brought forward savings already assumed in the Plan, £2.5 billion of which have yet to be generated.

The level of cost uncertainty in the Plan has also increased considerably, with 15% of additional commitments yet to go through detailed costing at project level. The MoD’s current costing practice can lead to significant understatement in the cost of projects in their early stages of development, the proportion of which has increased as a result of the Review. The MoD’s independent Cost Assurance and Analysis Service estimates that currently the Plan is underestimating financial risk by £4.8 billion. This figure is within the contingency provision of £5.3 billion but it does not include estimates for the new Review commitments. Major changes to the requirement for the Type 26 Global Combat Ship mean that costings for this, the largest non-nuclear programme in the Plan, will be unclear until 2018. The Plan also reports cost increases to various parts of the nuclear submarine programme.

The Plan is also vulnerable to changes in foreign exchange rates. Approximately £18.6 billion of the Plan will be paid in US dollars and £2.6 billion in Euros over the 10 year period. Planning assumptions are currently based upon rates set before the result of the EU referendum, and the recent exchange rate fluctuations threaten to impact significantly upon the affordability of the Plan.

"The affordability of the Equipment Plan is at greater risk than at any time since its inception. It is worrying to see that the costs of the new commitments arising from the Review considerably exceed the net increase in funding for the Plan. The difference is to be found partly by demanding efficiency targets.There is little room for unplanned cost growth and the MoD must actively guard against the risk of a return to previous practice where affordability could only be maintained by delaying or reducing the scope of projects.”

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office

Read the full report

The Equipment Plan 2016-2026

Notes for editors

£82bn Cost of the Ministry of Defence’s ten-year Equipment Procurement Plan £91bn Cost of the Ministry of Defence’s ten-year Equipment Support Plan £178bn Total size of the ten-year Equipment Plan £24.4 billion Value of new commitments to the Equipment Plan following the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review £10.7 billion Amount of the headroom budget re-allocated to fund the increases in the core programme: £9.5 billion carried forward from 2015 and £1.2 billion that the Ministry of Defence originally intended to include as headroom in 2016 £7.3 billion Level of new efficiency savings the Ministry of Defence must identify to ensure the Plan remains affordable: £5.8 billion from within the Equipment Plan and £1.5 billion from the wider Defence budget. £2.5 billion Amount of required efficiency savings carried forward from previous Equipment Plans that still has not been generated £6.4 billion Amount of new funding committed to the Equipment Plan from the Joint Security Fund £4.8 billion Amount which project teams may be underestimating the financial risks within project budgets, according to the Ministry of Defence’s independent Cost Assurance and Analysis Service £5.3 billion The Ministry of Defence’s contingency budget to mitigate potential increases in the cost of the ten-year Equipment Plan $28.8 billion Amount of dollar spend within the Equipment Plan (based upon current planning assumptions) that is exposed to foreign currency fluctuation.
  1. Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website. Hard copies can be obtained by using the relevant links on our website.
  2. The National Audit Office scrutinises public spending for Parliament and is independent of government. The Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG), Sir Amyas Morse KCB, is an Officer of the House of Commons and leads the NAO, which employs some 785 people. The C&AG certifies the accounts of all government departments and many other public sector bodies. He has statutory authority to examine and report to Parliament on whether departments and the bodies they fund have used their resources efficiently, effectively, and with economy. Our studies evaluate the value for money of public spending, nationally and locally. Our recommendations and reports on good practice help government improve public services, and our work led to audited savings of £1.21 billion in 2015.

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